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Denying thousands the fundamental human right to vote puts democracy at stake

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It’s that time of the year once again in the United States: absentee ballots are rolling in and voters are preparing to go to the polls. Some of us, even 20-somethings like me who are new to the grind, take participation in the democratic process for granted. As a child, I made the trek with my parents to our polling place every year, filled with an overwhelming sense of pride when they let me wear the “I Voted” pin. In my eyes, voting was just something that adults did – it was never more complicated than that.

Voting is a right that all of-age citizens are supposed to enjoy, thanks to the fundamental human right of “universal and equal suffrage.”[1] Recently, however, I began to realize that suffrage is neither universal nor equal in the United States. A few weeks ago at a phone banking event, I spoke with a man who is forbidden from voting for another 10 years because he is currently on parole. This man committed a felony decades ago, served his time, and yet remains deprived of his civil rights.

Minnesota law restricts “any individual convicted of treason or any felony whose civil rights have not been restored” from voting.[2] The law restores civil rights upon “discharge” of the conviction,[3] but that doesn’t happen until probation or parole has ended. The result: 75 percent of the 63,000 Minnesotans who were unable to vote due to a conviction in 2011 were living in the community on probation or parole.[4]

International human rights standards guarantee the right to vote free from “unreasonable restrictions.”[5] The UN Human Rights Committee deems a disenfranchisement law “unreasonable” if it is “[dis]proportionate to the offense and the sentence.”[6] That’s the case in Minnesota, where convicted persons who have served their time behind bars return to the community unable to vote for years or even decades. Minnesota’s blanket disenfranchisement provision, which automatically prohibits all persons convicted of any felony from voting, further breaches this doctrine, which prohibits the “automatic denial of the vote to any imprisoned felon, regardless of the nature of the offence.”[7]

Felon disenfranchisement laws vary around the country. Two states, Maine and Vermont, have no restrictions, allowing people on probation, parole, and in prison to vote. Maine and Vermont share the approach of many democracies around the world. Minnesota, by contrast, stands with Armenia and Chile in banning people from voting even after release from prison.[8]

Compounding the injustice, as a result of racial disparities in contact with the criminal justice system, Minnesota’s policy of disenfranchisement disproportionately strips African Americans and American Indians of the right to vote, violating U.S. obligations under article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [9] and article 25 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to vote free from discrimination based on race, color, language, or other status.[10]

The numbers are sobering. According to the Restore the Vote coalition, African Americans, roughly five percent of the state’s population, made up 25 percent of those disenfranchised in 2011; American Indians, two percent of Minnesota’s population, represented six percent of those disenfranchised.[11] The impact may be long-term:[12] that “I Voted” pin helped introduce me to the importance of voting; kids whose parents are denied the right to vote are shut out of that introduction to the democratic process.

The Advocates for Human Rights is part of Minnesota’s Restore the Vote coalition, an alliance of almost 100 groups working to change Minnesota’s policy on disenfranchisement. For more than 10 years, the coalition, led in part by disenfranchised community members, has pushed for the reinstatement of voting rights for those living in Minnesota. This coalition is advocating for a human right that too many of us fail to appreciate. As Election Day approaches, consider what is at stake if Minnesota continues to deny the fundamental human right to vote to thousands of our neighbors. Perhaps this will motivate each of us to strive for a more just democracy for ourselves and our kids.

By: Ellie Benson, a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and a research intern at The Advocates for Human Rights.

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx

[2] Minn. Stat. 201.014 (2016).  https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=201.014&format=pdf

[3] Minn. Stat. 609.165 (2016). https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=609.165&format=pdf

[4] https://restorethevotemn.org/why-rights-restoration/

[5] ICCPR Art. 25.

[6] http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/gencomm/hrcom25.htm

[7] CCPR/C/USA/CO/4 para. 24.

[8] http://felonvoting.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000289

[9] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CERD.aspx

[10] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CCPR.aspx

[11] https://restorethevotemn.org/why-rights-restoration/

[12]

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Discrimination Hurts. Period.

woman-embracing-sky-3
I am constantly amazed at the accomplishments and bravery of kids my age. Many confront issues that I simply do not have to take on—often with respect to very basic things. I hope that if I was confronted with the same situations, I would be as brave.

Parkriti Kandel from Katmandu, Nepal is one such teenager. Throughout her life, she has been forced to live and struggle with the  “menstrual taboos” in her culture. At a listening party for 15-year-old girls hosted by NPR, I heard Prakriti’s story and her efforts to mitigate the menstrual taboos in her country and, in spite of it, her struggles to achieve her dreams.

In rural Nepal, women and girls experiencing their menstrual period are referred to as “untouchables.” Each month in rural Nepal, women and girls often consider their menstrual cycles as a time when something “horrible happens” to them. They are ostracized from society on a monthly basis, and are often forced to sleep in sheds despite the practice being outlawed in 2005 by Nepal’s Supreme Court

“When I’m having my period, I can’t touch my grandmother, and I can’t eat while she’s eating,” Prakriti told NPR. “I can’t touch the table while she’s eating. I can’t touch my father; I can’t touch my mother.” Prakriti was even blamed for her father’s illness because she had touched him while she had her period. “Because of this belief [the belief that women are infectious on their periods], because of this ritual, women are not equal to men,” she said. Her goal in life “is to be the prime minister of Nepal and change things” regarding menstrual taboos.

There is a certain shame that I feel when I hear girls talk about their periods. I have had a difficult time talking about it, too. Why do I feel this shame? It is a normal bodily function. Why do negative stigmas surround it? As Prakriti noted, “discrimination always hurts.” For example, blaming a woman for being moody is a discriminatory menstrual taboo wrongly suggesting  women cannot consistently operate as rationally as men. And at the Olympics in Rio, when the Chinese female swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, mentioned to a reporter that she was experiencing her period, she made international headlines for breaking a Chinese menstrual taboo.

The negative connotations associated with a woman’s period must end. I hope by drawing more attention to this issue, I will help others feel comfortable talking about their periods and the taboos we experience. Yuanhui broke the silence, and it is time we do, too.

Period.

By youth blogger Jenna Schulman, a tenth grade student in Washington, D.C. 

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Death Penalty Under Scrutiny: Is State-Sanctioned Murder Constitutional?

U.S. Supreme Court (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
U.S. Supreme Court (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, October 10, the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty will raise awareness of the application of the death penalty for terrorism-related offenses with the goal of reducing the use of the death penalty. The United States and 64 other countries allow people to be sentenced to death for terrorism-related offenses.

The Advocates for Human Rights, with the assistance of pro bono attorneys, collaborates with members of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty to bring death penalty issues to the attention of the United Nations to advocate for change.

Jury selection began last week in the case of Dylann Roof, the self-identified white supremacist accused of murdering nine black worshippers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in South Carolina last year. Roof was recently denied the opportunity to plead guilty and serve a life sentence for his crimes; the Department of Justice will instead seek the death penalty. In response, Roof’s lawyers have chosen to challenge the constitutionality of capital punishment head-on. Their decision to oppose the death penalty in court, citing the punishment as “a legally prohibited, arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments,” follows the lead of similar influential cases that have taken place across the country in the past several years.

In the United States, the federal government has not carried out a death sentence in over a decade. The Death Penalty Information Center reports 2015 as having the lowest recorded number of executions in 25 years (28 people), as well as the lowest number of death sentence convictions in over 40 years (49 people). At the same time, public opposition to the death penalty is at the highest level it has been in several decades, marking steady progress toward abolition of the death penalty.

From the grass roots to the U.S. Supreme Court, individuals have increasingly vocalized disdain for the death penalty. The Black Lives Matter movement has recognized diminished public support for capital punishment and in its policy platform is demanding immediate action toward complete abolition. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to continue to use the drug midazolam in executions, Justice Stephen G. Breyer authored a 46-page dissent, arguing that “it is highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment].” The drug itself is linked to causing severe pain in the process of an execution, a point which prompted some Justices to question the constitutionality of the death sentence. In his dissent, Justice Breyer noted several flaws in the system of administering capital punishment: the execution of innocent people; frequently exonerations of individuals on death row; and the negative influence of politics and discrimination on the imposition of the death penalty in the criminal justice system.

Seven states have abolished the death penalty since 2007, bringing the current total to 20. (Californians will vote on November 8 to determine whether that state will join the list.) The most recent is Delaware, when its Supreme Court ruled that the state’s statute allowing judges to overrule a jury’s decision for a life sentence was a direct violation of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution (the right to an impartial jury). In January of this year, the Supreme Court ruled similarly on Florida’s death penalty law. State by state, courts are ruling that major faults in our system of justice are in direct violation of basic rights recognized in the U.S. Constitution.

This recent trend of questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty reflects a growing awareness of defects within the criminal justice system. The system that exists today puts people with mentally illness to death, disproportionately executes black individuals convicted of murdering whites, and kills the innocent. Execution methods present a real risk of subjecting individuals to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Moreover, research demonstrates that the death penalty does not deter future murders. In the words of Delaware’s Governor Markell: “the use of capital punishment is an instrument of imperfect justice that doesn’t make us any safer.”

dp-by-the-numbersSource: The Nation

Capital punishment endures because many still assume that it is appropriate or effective. But here is what the death penalty doesn’t do:

  • preserve the constitutional rights to life and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment
  • promote a belief in rehabilitation and reconciliation
  • punish equitably, without discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status, or disability
  • punish fairly, by ensuring that no innocent person is executed and by ensuring that all defendants can fully exercise their due process rights
  • make progress toward addressing the root causes of crime in order to prevent heinous murders
  • address the ideologies and beliefs that motivate hate crimes (such Dylann Roof’s)
  • bring back victims of the crime

Dylann Roof must answer for his shocking crimes, and for the permanent damage he has inflicted on his victims and their families. We must recognize the powerful racial dynamics at work, acknowledging Roof’s racially based murders and his privileged status as a young white male in today’s criminal justice system. Yet, we should also recognize the significance of Roof’s lawyers challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty on a federal level. If the court decides that the death penalty violates the Constitution, not only will it mark significant progress toward ending state-sponsored murder, but our country may also find the motivation and political will to reform of a criminal justice system in desperate need of justice, and to bring that system in line with international human rights standards.

By Maggie Poulos, a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, majoring in International Studies with a minor in political science. During the summer of 2016, she was an intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. She is interning with The Advocates’ Refugee & Immigrant Program during the academic year.

Click here to learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work against the death penalty.

 

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#IHaveTheRightTo

Chessy Prout stands tall and strong.
Chessy Prout stands tall and strong.

The start of the school year and the recent conviction and sentencing of Owen Labrie to two years’ probation for sexually assaulting 15-year-old Chessy Prout make it particularly important to get out messages about sexual assault on high school and college campuses. In Labrie’s case, the sentence is not justice. It does not hold him accountable. It does not send a message of zero tolerance for sexual assault; and it does not serve to keep our communities – and girls – safe. As students across the country head back to school, the words of Jenna Schulman, our youth blogger, are an important reminder.

“I have the right to my body. I have the right to say no.”  Thanks to Chessy Prout, I have learned the power these words hold.

Her story is well known. She’s a victim of sexual assault at St. Paul’s School, a private boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. The perpetrator, Owen Labrie, was  convicted on charges of misdemeanor sexual assault and felony use of a computer. But until recently, the public did not know the victim’s name or her face. This changed when Chessy spoke publicly for the first time on the Today show about her ordeal. “I want everyone to know that I am not afraid or ashamed anymore, and I never should have been,” she said, her family flanking her. “It’s been two years now since the whole ordeal, and I feel ready to stand up and own what happened to me and make sure other people, other girls and boys, don’t need to be ashamed, either.”

Chessy is now 17 years old. She was 15 at the time of the assault: my age!

Chessy was incredibly brave to come forward. Although she was anonymous to the public, she testified at trial and experienced the victim-blaming so many victims of sexual assault have to face. Now as she speaks publicly, she demonstrates that same bravery. It cannot be easy for her.

Her message is an important one, and I am so thankful to her for continuing the conversation so publicly about preventing sexual assault in high school. “I want other people to feel empowered and just strong enough to be able to say, ‘I have the right to my body.  I have the right to say no,’” she said. She took the our generation’s important communication tool, Twitter, to launch the #IHaveTheRightTo campaign with the hope that  more people will be public with their stories.  (Click here to watch a video about the campaign.)

When you are robbed of a possession, society does not (usually) condemn you, the victim, by proclaiming “you asked for it.” But that is just what Chessy has had to endure. Spend 10 minutes on the internet and you will find numerous, cruel messages accusing her of being a “slut” (and worse!). Why are victims of personal property crimes treated better than victims who sustain crimes to their bodies? It is time to take a stand. We all have the right to say “no.” Chessy understands this and is working to ensure that other kids, like me, do, too. For that I am incredibly grateful.

Thank you, Chessy Trout.

By youth blogger Jenna Schulman, a tenth grade student in Washington, D.C. 

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Building a Culture of Consent in High School

Photo is part of the "Fraternity House" series, by artist Violet Overn, a recent New York University graduate, is a sharp reminder that one in five women are sexuall assaulted in college.
This photo, part of the “Fraternity House” series by artist Violet Overn, serves as a sharp reminder that sexual assault is prevalent on college and high school campuses.

The start of the school year and the recent conviction and sentencing of Owen Labrie to two years’ probation for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old make it particularly important to get out messages about sexual assault on campuses. In Labrie’s case, the sentence is not justice. It does not hold him accountable. It does not send a message of zero tolerance for sexual assault; and it does not serve to keep our communities – and girls – safe. As students across the country head back to school, the words of Jenna Schulman, our youth blogger, are an important reminder.

Sexual assault is not just an issue for adults or students in college, it is also an issue for teens in high school. Studies show that one in five women and one in six men are assaulted during their lifetimes. Forty four percent of these victims are less than 18 years old.

This summer, I took part in a program at my high school, Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., to investigate the issue of sexual assault and consent at the high school level. The object of the program was for us to learn more about the issue and then create a program in our school and for the larger community to address it.

We spent the first two weeks of the project getting educated about the issue of sexual assault and consent. We met with stakeholders based in the DC- metropolitan area, including government officials, advocates, survivors of sexual assault and social service providers. Following these meetings, I struggled to understand how such a small program, like ours, might offer any meaningful help. Initially, I looked at these traumas as if the only solution was to create policies by going through state and federal government. However, my perspective changed. The HRC advocates talked to us about how creating a culture shift, one step at a time, at the grassroots level, could help prevent sexual assaults. A culture shift would include three major components. First, it is important to develop universal definitions of what it means to give affirmative consent and what it means to be sexually harassed or assaulted.  It is important to minimize ambiguity sensibly. Second, the conversation about consent needs to be expanded and geared toward younger children. This does not mean that we should be educating our six year olds about how to have sex. Rather,  it means that we should be educating six year olds about boundaries and what it means to say yes and no. Third, we need to be much more open to believing survivors. Sexual assault is one the crimes where a survivor is too often seen as guilty until proven innocent.

We spent the second two weeks of the program trying to move from policy to action – thinking about ways to affect a culture shift in the DC high school community. As a first step, we decided to host a summit addressing sexual assault and consent for all area high schools. The summit will take place on Saturday, November 19, at Georgetown Day School.  The goal of the summit is to begin a conversation within the high school community about how to address sexual assault and how to create a consent culture. The event will have breakout sessions led by advocates, policy makers, educators, and survivors.

I feel very fortunate that my school gave students, like me, the opportunity this summer to address the issue of sexual assault and consent at the high school level.  I appreciated that they let us “own” the issue, and think through it ourselves. The program has changed my perspective on how I perceive sexual assault – allowing me to understand even more how it affects teenagers in high school (and not just those in college).  It also provided me with a greater sense of urgency that change has to happen and that we cannot remain complacent about the issue.

I encourage other school districts and teens from around the country to begin conversations of their own, within their schools and with friends and family about the seriousness of sexual assault and the importance generating a culture shift. It really begins with you and we can together create positive change.

By youth blogger Jenna Schulman, a tenth grade student in Washington, D.C. 

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Modern-day slavery in the Persian Gulf

Trafficking word cloudThe Advocates for Human Rights receives a barrage of emails from across the globe, people who are looking for information and assistance in a wide variety of human rights issues. The requests for assistance are a window into the current human rights problems in the world, which oftentimes are virtually unknown outside of the country or region.

One example that I find especially heartbreaking is the modern day slavery that is happening in the Persian Gulf region. Through the Kafala system, a policy of the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), citizens or companies sponsor “foreign” workers in order for their work visas and residency to be valid. This means that an individual’s right to work and legal presence in a host country is dependent on his or her employer, rendering the person to exploitation. The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Every year, thousands migrate from Southeast Asia to the Persian Gulf region to seek employment. With some differences, the story of these workers repeats itself; people from the poorest parts of the world are toiling in sweat and blood in the shadow of unimaginable wealth. In such conditions, however, the international community enjoys investment incentives, luxurious shopping centers, and dreams of the World Cup (many of its facilities are built by migrant workers).

They Are Entrapped

The plight of migrant workers begins in their home countries when they are deceived in the recruitment process and promised liveable wages. Migrant workers usually take out large loans to pay the fees of local recruitment agencies that arrange their work contract and travel documents. While migrant workers are heavily dependant on their salaries to survive, they should devote most of their wages to service loans.

As a common practice, sponsors confiscate workers’ passports. Even when workers have their passports, they still must have their sponsor’s permission to leave the country. Migrant workers have limited options; continue in their jobs, or quit the job and work illegally for different employers. They have reported a culture of fear and intimidation in which there is no access to justice, especially for those who work illegally.

They Are Segregated and Exploited Slaves

Most migrant workers live in substandard conditions in remote areas. In Qatar, for instance, the segregation has been built through legislation by the Central Municipal Council (CMC). With the establishment of “family zones,” migrant workers have been banned from living in Doha; and have been prevented from enjoying public areas, such as shopping centers on certain days. Such laws legitimize negative stereotypes about migrant workers and have the effect of further entrenching segregation.

The World Cup Nightmare

In response to reports of worker’s deaths (in the World Cup facilities), the Qatari government commissioned a law firm to investigate. The recommendations of this investigation about legal reforms, however, have never been followed seriously. While the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants called for Qatar to repeal its Kafala system, it seems that the Qatari government intends to rename the system without removing its exploitative provisions. According to the latest report of the International Laborer Organization (“ILO”), Qatar has failed to observe the international standards regarding migrant workers. Two years prior, the ILO asked Qatar to take meaningful actions, otherwise a United Nations inquiry would be launched in 2017 that will make possible imposing international sanctions. As Human Rights Watch reported, Qatar has promised little and has delivered far less. By continuing in this way, the International Trade Union Confederation reports that, about 4,000 workers will die before the World Cup 2022.

Any will for change?

Considering the lack of protective measures for migrant workers, host countries must make fundamental changes in the Kafala system. In addition, they have enough financial means to ensure safe work, standard living conditions, and decent wages for foreign laborers. Simultaneously, migrant workers’ countries of origin have the duty to monitor the conditions of their citizens and provide them with proper consular support. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that international companies will acknowledge their responsibility for the miserable conditions of their migrant laborers. For this reason, human rights activists across the Persian Gulf region and beyond must shed light on the lives of migrant workers to end modern-day slavery as a common practice among nations in the region.

By Mehrnoosh Karimi Andu, a third-year J.D. student (class of 2017) at the University of Minnesota Law School. She is 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

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Cameroon must act to protect its children from Boko Haram

Boko Haram in Cameroon
In 2015, Boko Haram released images taken at a training camp for child soldiers in Nigeria (Photo: Al-Urwa Al-Wuthqa Media). Image link and article link.

During my time this summer as an intern at The Advocates for Human Rights, I’ve encountered many horror stories of human rights violations around the world. Yet none has shaken me more than the terrorist group Boko Haram’s new war tactic: kidnapping children and deploying them as suicide bombers.

Since its uprising against the Nigerian government in 2009, the militant Islamic group with allegiance to ISIS has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced nearly 2.3 million people. According to the Global Terrorism Index, it is the world’s deadliest terrorist group over ISIS. Much of the world, however, learned of Boko Haram only after its abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014. Most of the girls remain missing to this day.

The latest development in Boko Haram’s violence that has spread beyond Nigeria’s borders is the harrowing use of children in suicide attacks, and the country with the highest incidence is Cameroon. According to UNICEF, 21 suicide attacks involving children took place in Cameroon between January 2014 and February 2016, while there were 17 in Nigeria and two in Chad.

As with children taken by Boko Haram elsewhere, those captured in Cameroon are forced to serve as not only suicide bombers, but also combatants on the front line, human shields, and guards – collectively known as “child soldiers.”

What have Cameroonian authorities done in response to Boko Haram’s increasing exploitation of their children as tools of war?

Cameroon joined a multinational task force to fight against Boko Haram and continues to conduct offensive military operations, but the protection of child soldiers embroiled in the conflict has not been a priority of the government. In its periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, ― a body of experts monitoring implementation of the human rights treaty specific to children ― Cameroon does not make a single reference to child soldiers nor Boko Haram’s use of children in its aggression.

Furthermore, the government does not offer organized support to former child soldiers. As Cameroonian forces have recaptured territories held by Boko Haram, some abductees have been found and released. According to UNICEF, however, many are not even welcomed home and instead viewed with deep suspicion because of the fear that they were radicalized in captivity. In particular, girls who were forcibly married to their captors and became pregnant as a result of rape face marginalization and discrimination due to social and cultural norms related to sexual violence. Accused of being Boko Haram wives, they are rejected by relatives and community members.

In the face of egregious abuses committed against Cameroonian children by Boko Haram and the mistreatment persisted by society, the government has been silent for far too long and must take action to better protect its youth from the effects of armed conflict. Instead of penalizing children associated with Boko Haram as was the case in the mass arrest and detainment of Quranic school students in 2014, the government ought to treat them as victims in need of protection.

In July, The Advocates and our Cameroonian partner Centre pour la promotion du droit (Center for the Promotion of Law or CEPROD) submitted a joint report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Child, identifying specific measures that the Cameroon government should enact.

First, the government should harmonize its national legislation with international standards that prohibit the recruitment of children by non-state armed groups such as Boko Haram. Cameroon has ratified both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the accompanying Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Under these treaties, Cameroon has the duty to enact measures to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups, including the adoption of necessary legal measures. At present, however, Cameroon does not have any law that addresses the use of children by armed groups. Domestic provisions criminalizing this practice must be in place in order to prosecute perpetrators and stop offenses from occurring in the first place.

Second, the Cameroonian government should develop a comprehensive system of demobilization, recovery, and reintegration for children previously under the influence of armed groups. For the fraction of child soldiers who are rescued or able to escape from Boko Haram, life after captivity is supposed to be better. Yet these children are abandoned by their own families and left wholly vulnerable from their torturous experiences under Boko Haram. It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that they are safely moved to rehabilitative centers and to assist them in their physical and psychological recovery as well as their reintegration into society.

Recruiting children to participate in hostilities is a blatant human rights violation under international law. Yet a State’s failure to protect its children from such recruitment is also a violation of its human rights obligation. The Cameroonian government must act now to safeguard the rights of its children.

By: Nayeon Kim, a rising senior at Yale University studying political science and psychology.  She was a 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program  through the Bulldogs on the Lakes program.  

Additional reading:

Joint submission from The Advocates and CEPROD to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on Issues Relating to Children in Conflict with the Law and Protection & Care of Children Affected by Armed Conflict (July 2016)

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On India’s Independence Day: A promise unfulfilled for religious minorities

PM Modi in Washington
Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures while addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 8. PTI Photo (PTI6_8_2016_000187A)

“India lives as one; India grows as one; India celebrates as one,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered these lofty words to a joint session of U.S. Congress on June 8 of this year. The rosy picture he painted of India, however, is betrayed by the reality of communal strife and intolerance on the ground. India, the world’s largest democracy, was founded as a secular liberal democracy:  in essence a promise to all Indians of their fair share of prosperity and the pursuit of the good life regardless of religion, background, or creed.

Regretfully, as India celebrates its 70th Independence Day on August 15, that promise remains unfulfilled for the many Indians who are deprived of their equal rights through both government action and inaction.

There are two broad areas of concern. The first is the rising religious tensions linked to alleged government-backed Hindu nationalism and the corresponding rise of communal violence and religious intolerance. The second is the lack of redress through courts, shown acutely by extrajudicial violence, custodial killings by the police, and unbearably long court waiting times. Both of these areas of concern have lack of accountability at their core, with perpetrators of both religious- and non-religious-based violence going unpunished.

India has always been a melting pot of traditions, religions, and languages and is constitutionally a secular country to account for such diversity. The increasing atmosphere of Hindu nationalism has perverted those principles with disastrous results: there have been more incidents of communal violence and a stronger culture of impunity for officials who commit religion-based crimes.

Since Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the government has permitted the virulent ideology of right-wing Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to become commonplace within government and society. Testifying before the U.S. Congress Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights hearing on religious minorities in India in June, Indian journalist Ajit Saha described the impact of the RSS as the “sine qua non about human rights in India.” This ideology has been linked with increased rates of vigilantism against religious minorities. Such acts include killing a Muslim man for allegedly eating a cow, disrupting marriages between Muslims and Hindus, and forcibly converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. All this has happened with official complacency. “The prime minister [has] not weighed in to admonish the culprits,” noted Saha.

Communal Violence
India has a long and tragic history of communal violence which in the Indian context can be defined as violence directed against religious or linguistic minorities. The most significant occurrences in the recent past were located in Uttar Pradesh( 2013), Odisha ( 2007-2008), Gujarat ( 2002), and Delhi in (1984). The scale of violence can be immense. The Gujarati violence was particularly noteworthy leaving “between 1,200-2,500 Muslims dead, destroyed homes, and forced 100,000 people to flee.”  Similarly the Delhi riots in 1984 “resulted in deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs.” The rates of communal violence have increased substantially under Modi, “India experienced a 17% increase in communal violence, when compared to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014.” Included in this violence in 2015 were attacks on Christian churches.

There are numerous problems for Indians seeking redress for communal violence. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom noted that,
“NGOs, religious leaders, and human rights activists allege religious bias and corruption in these investigations and adjudications. Additionally, religious minority communities claim that eye-witnesses often are intimidated not to testify, especially when local political, religious, or societal leaders have been implicated in cases.”

Lack of Accountability: Gujarat
The involvement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP officials in the violent riots in Gujarat in 2002 and the lack of accountability are of particular concern. While Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, was responsible for coordinating the government’s response to the violent mobs, there is strong evidence to suggest that top officials actively refused to intervene in the violent riots. The tragic case of Ehsan Jafri, the Congress MP who gave terrified Muslims safe haven in his home during the Gulberg Society riots, is telling. According to eyewitnesses, Jafri made frantic calls to top Gujarati officials, including Modi himself, to no avail. Eventually Jafri offered himself to the gathering mob outside his house in an effort to save those inside his home. He was butchered by the mob while they set his home alight, killing most inside. Many BJP officials were acquitted from charges relating to the riots. Civil society activists like Teesta Setalvad have protested the judicial proceedings, citing the hostility of investigators towards witnesses and the restricted purview of the investigation.

Retaliation Against Civil Society
The draconian Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) is being used to restrict funding and revoke licenses of NGOs that criticize the government. Activist Setalvad has been a prime target of government retaliation for her work seeking justice for the Gujarat victims and a new trial for Modi and other Gujarat officials implicated in the 2002 violence. As Ajit Saha testified, “The Supreme Court had to stay attempts to arrest her on charges of financial embezzlement through the Citizens for Justice & Peace, her NGO. Her offices and homes have been raided several times, failing each time to recover incriminating evidence.” It is alleged that the registration of Lawyers Collective, an Indian NGO dedicated to human rights issues, was suspended because of its legal assistance to Setalvad.  Similarly, Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai was refused admission to a flight to London to testify to Parliament about human rights abuses in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Custodial Killings
There is a terrifyingly high number of people in India killed in police custody. More than 14,000 Indians died in the custody of police or in prisons during 2001-10 at a rate of four a day for ten years. The vast majority of deaths, 99.9 percent according to The Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), is the result of torture. “Torture remains endemic, institutionalised and central to the administration of justice,” reports the ACHR.

Encounter Killings
Another pervasive extrajudicial practice is “encounter killings.” Officially, these are deaths resulting from encounters with suspects. But in reality, these tend to be outright murders by police. As explained by Ajit Sahi, “Nearly all such encounters are suspected of being “fake,” that is, pre-apprehended men and women killed in cold blood.”  The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution’s 2013 report on India noted that, “[A]ccording to the NHRC [National Human Rights Council], 2,560 deaths during encounters with police were reported between 1993 and 2008. Of this number, 1,224 cases were regarded by the NHRC as “fake encounters.”

Prime Minister Modi spoke about the ideal India in his speech to U.S. Congress in June. An India united rather than fragmented.  As it is, India is riven with religious conflict and intolerance. People are killed for their communal identities in mob violence while officials either take no action or, themselves, contribute to the killing.

If India is to ever achieve the greater goal of Indian unity, its leaders must continue to acknowledge and correct shortcomings, including holding all perpetrators of violence accountable.

Additional reading by The Advocates for Human Rights:

India’s Politics Without Principles 

Hold Modi Accountable

The Advocates’ Robin Phillips Testifies Before Congressional Committee

Joint Written Statement on Religious Minorities in India submitted to United Nations Human Rights Council

By Adam Krok, a sophomore at Yale (class of 2019) expecting to major in Ethics, Politics and Economics. From Johannesburg, South Africa, he is 2016 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program through the Bulldogs on the Lakes program.  He enjoys nothing more than a good argument or a compelling case.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U.S. Supreme Court Stands Up for Domestic Violence Victims

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Twenty-six people―mostly children―were gunned down in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twelve people were shot to death in a Colorado movie theater. Fourteen people slain in San Bernardino. Fifty-three people were ambushed in Orlando. Then there were the woman and four family members in Texas, shot and killed by her husband at their daughter’s birthday party; the woman, three of her friends, and her attorney shot and killed by the woman’s ex-husband in Arizona; and the Short family―a mother and her three children―murdered by their father while they slept in their Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota home.

In addition to being mass shootings, these killings have another thing in common: many of the shooters had a history of domestic violence. And they are not the only ones. A 2015 study revealed that of the 133 mass shootings between 2009 and 2015, 57 percent had ties to domestic and/or family violence. In fact, in 21 of those cases, the shooter had a prior domestic violence charge.

A recent U.S. Supreme court decision recognized the dangerous connection between domestic violence perpetrators and gun violence and maintained prevention efforts previously put in place by Congress. On June 27, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of limiting gun ownership and possession for domestic violence perpetrators. The Court’s strong stance came as a relief to victims of domestic violence and women’s advocates across the country because of its implications for the safety of victims. The Supreme Court effectively conveyed that it had no intention of drawing a line between reckless and intentional acts of violence, focusing not on the intent of the abuser, but on the abuser’s actual or attempted use of force.

More than a decade ago, in 1994, Congress enacted a law prohibiting individuals found guilty of a felony from owning or possessing guns. Nonetheless, most domestic violence perpetrators were slipping through the cracks because domestic violence crimes are often charged as, or pleaded down to, misdemeanors. To bridge the gap, Congress amended the law in 1996 to read that any person guilty of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is prohibited from owning or possessing a gun. (A MCDV requires that: (1) the person was convicted of a misdemeanor under federal, state, or tribal law; (2) the crime was committed against a domestic relation; and (3) the perpetrator used or attempted to use physical force, or threatened the use of a deadly weapon against the victim.)

However, domestic violence gun laws are not uniform throughout the states, which is where the recent Supreme Court case,  Voisine v. United States, comes into play.  In that case, two petitioners in Maine were charged with violating federal law by possessing guns following misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. The two men argued that they were exempt from these charges because Maine’s law criminalized “reckless” domestic violence which, according to the petitioners, did not qualify as “use of physical force.” Instead, the petitioners claimed “reckless” implied the conduct was accidental. They believed that a reckless act of violence―as opposed to a malicious act of violence―was not grounds to lose their right to bear arms. The Court disagreed, stating it does not matter whether a person acted intentionally or recklessly―so long as the person willfully exerted a force that the person knew was substantially likely to cause harm. As such, not only did the Supreme Court uphold the federal law, but it further clarified that the gun prohibition was intended to reach to domestic violence perpetrators across the country, despite variations in state statutory language.

Citing previous jurisprudence and congressional intent in its ruling, it is apparent that the Supreme Court felt strongly about the dangers of domestic violence perpetrators owning guns.

As seen in the examples referenced above, there is a strong link between mass shootings and domestic violence. Domestic violence abusers are statistically two to ten times more likely to commit violent crimes with guns than the average gun-owner.

In addition, domestic violence perpetrators’ access to guns increases the lethality in domestic violence situations. A recent Huffington Post study revealed that in January of this year alone, 112 people in the United States died as a result of domestic violence. Not surprisingly, guns were involved in more than half of the deaths. Domestic violence perpetrators are five times more likely to kill someone in a domestic violence incident when a gun is present. Although not perfect, laws criminalizing gun possession for domestic violence perpetrators have the ability to decrease the amount of gun-related domestic violence homicides by upwards of 25 percent.

But laws are not enough; we need to do more to limit access to guns. For example, this struggle plays out in Minnesota where, since 2013, it has banned domestic violence perpetrators from owning guns. Nonetheless, each year guns are still involved in more than half of domestic violence homicides in the state, and in 2015, 37 percent of these homicides were executed by men who were legally prohibited from possessing guns.

Despite where people stand when it comes to the Second Amendment, it is clear that individuals with a history of domestic violence are statistically more likely to commit acts of violence in the future and that guns substantially increase the lethality of domestic violence incidents. It is imperative that access to guns be limited for domestic violence perpetrators both on paper and in practice.

By: Rachel Pence, a summer intern with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program and a student at the University of San Diego School of Law.

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Human rights defender in Iran starts hunger strike, demanding the right to call her children

Narges Mohammadi and her children, Kiana and Ali.
Narges Mohammadi and her children, Kiana and Ali.

Narges Mohammadi, vice chair of Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) in Iran and currently imprisoned in Iran’s Evin Prison, started a hunger strike on June 27, 2016. The date coincides with the 21st day of the month of Ramadan.

Ms Mohammadi has written an emotional letter explaining her decision, the DHRC website reported.

In the letter, she says that she has “no demand other than the possibility of calling [her] children” and that, contrary to her desire and physical capability, she has no way other than a hunger strike to remind the world that she is a mother who misses her children.

Ms. Mohammadi was arrested at her home by intelligence ministry officials on May 5, 2015. Shortly after her arrest, while Ms. Mohammadi was in jail, her children joined their father who had been forced, under the pressure of security and judicial officials, to immigrate to France.

On May 18, 2016, the Revolutionary Court of Iran sentenced human rights defender Ms. Mohammadi to 16 years imprisonment on several counts including for “membership in the [now banned] Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty” group, for “taking part in assembly and collusion against national security” and “committing propaganda against the state.”

In the past year, Ms Mohammadi has only once been able to speak to her children on the phone. That was in early April 2016.

Writing open letters to high judicial officials, Ms. Mohammadi has repeatedly protested against the behavior of jail guards and the security officials in prison.

What follows is the full text of the emotional letter of Narges Mohammadi, written on June 27, 2016.

It is now the month of Tir [June-July in Persian Calendar] and it was in the same month, a year ago in a hot summer, that my two little children, aged 8, left Iran for France to live with their father. It had become impossible to live without a mother and a father. I have repeatedly thought about our last meeting. Every time, my family would be left behind the large gates of Evin and only my dearest Kiana and Ali could enter the prison. From the gates to our meeting room in the security office, it was a long walk and the children were accompanied by a guard, holding each other’s hands. On the way, they’d see prisoners, in hand-cuffs and leg cuffs, wearing dark blue, striped prison uniforms and they were scared. When they got to me, while they were still tightly holding on to each other’s hands, they breathed heavily and spoke of what they had see.n Once Ali told Kiana: “Kiana, good that we ran away. The thieves would have gotten us”.

I was always worried about their coming and going until the last meeting came. They said: “Mommy Narges! Don’t you worry. We go to Daddy Taqi and we’ll come back again”. From the door of the security office to the middle of the courtyard, they turned back several times to look at me. They were holding hands. We said goodbye and the door was closed and my dearest Ali and Kiana left. Not only when I was bidding them goodbye with my eyes, but even now, after one year has past, I can’t believe they left. It was 1:30 pm. I don’t know how I gathered myself to go back to my cell. I passed the hallway and got into the courtyard. I stood on the hot asphalts to pray. I wanted to speak to Himself. Only to he, Himself. I don’t know what I said and what I heard and how much I cried. I don’t even know what to call my state: Prayer, Wailing or Losing Life. I don’t know how much I crouched on my painful knees but I stood up straight again. I don’t know how many times my forehead touched the dear soil of the Evin prison and how much of the tears coming from my eyes and the blood being shed from my heart did I gave away. But I stood up. I don’t know how many times did I hold my hands to the sky and asked Him for patience. My feet were burning so bad that I finally had to go back to my cell. I thought that in three months, when schools re-open, my dear ones would come. But September came and my children didn’t. I requested permission to speak on the phone with them; to at least hear their voice. But it wasn’t granted. In the Women’s section in Evin, unlike all the other prisons in the country, there is no phone for families to call. This is forbidden. We have a visitation time once a week and from week to week, we go without news, waiting for the next meeting. Mothers meet with their children once a week and in person. On Wednesdays, Maryam Akbarifard, Sedighe Moradi, Zahra Zahtabchi, Azita Rafiazade and Fateme Mosana are called to meet their children. I sit on the edge of my bed and ask the mothers to kiss the beautiful face of their sons and daughters. Mothers go to the meeting and I meet with my dearest Kiana and Ali in my own daydreams. I smell their small hands and kiss their beautiful faces.

For a year now, my only contact with my two small children has been limited to me asking about them from my sister and brother. I always hear the same sentence back: “Don’t you worry. They are doing fine.” I have forgotten their voices. I don’t keep their photos by my bed anymore. I can’t look at them. My sister said: “Every time I want to come see you, Ali tells me to ask ‘Mommy Narges’ if she dreams of me?” My only way to connect with my children is in our dreams. How strange it is that they also see their mothers in their nightly, childish, sweet dreams and this is how they connect with me.

It is a year since my children are gone and despite all the open and confidential letters that I and my family have written, my request for phone connection with my children has not been granted. Only once, on the occasion of the New Year, on 3 April 2016, on the written order of the Tehran prosecutor I spoke to my dear Kiana and Ali “for ten minutes, under security conditions and only with the children”. The last words of my children was: “Mommy Narges! I hope they let you call us again”.

In 2012, when I was arrested to go through my six years in prison, my interrogator in the cell 209 said: “Oh, remember you boasting about defending human rights? I’ll send you to the general section so you know who humans are.” And now I know because they had repeatedly asked me stop my activities so that they’d let me stay by my children. They thought by imposing separation and cutting all contact, even phone contact, they’d teach me what being a mother is.

In the last year, I’ve had a strange experience in prison. Being in prison and even getting a 16 sentence for my last case has not only not made me regret but has strengthened my will and belief in supporting human rights, more than ever. But nothing has reduced the suffering and pain caused by my dear ones and my beloved children being away. If during all this time, I have had a smile of happiness, being happy with my activities and work, my heart has always been filled with a bitter chaos caused by the desire to see them. Part of my existence is filled with satisfaction, happiness, seriousness and effort; and another part, full of pain, sadness and desire. As if my heart goes on its own way and my brain its own separate way. Once more, I am with Moses’s mother. It was the mother who received the revelation and put his child in a basket, on the Nile — it was the belief and faith of mother that did it. But just the day after, the separation of the child was heavy on the mother’s heart. So much so that she feared she’d speak of secrets of heart that she shouldn’t. She sang her song of wailing and went on her own way and God intervened… In this land, the power of my faith and my belief in the cause is challenged by human desire, love and kindness. My whole existence comes under pressure. And what pain is this. How hard to be in love with the dear ones, going toward your cause and thinking of humanity. I have always said that in a land where it is hard enough to be a woman, a mother or a human rights activist, to be all three is an unforgivable, human-breaking crime. And now, “I” in my land and homeland, am accused of being a human rights activist, feminist and an opponent of capital punishment (as the charges read in the court said). I am condemned and in prison. Oh, the beauty of the fate: I have to also be a woman and a mother.

They regarded my defense of human rights as a crime but, worse, they denied me being a woman and a mother. Until I die, I will protest. I will not forget. My children were three years old when they stormed my house and took my dear Kiana, who had recently gone under surgery, away from my bosom. As she was crying, her feverous body was thrown in jail. They were five years old and their father was away, when they came for me. The kids wouldn’t let me go. They had lied to them, promising that I’d join them that very night. They took me from them and imprisoned me and on 5 May when my children were in school and went home in the afternoon, hoping their mother would open the door, they were met with a closed door. They had to then follow their father and leave this land. I ask these men of religion and government, didn’t they do enough to me and my children? Should they also now harass my small, innocent children like this? I spoke clearly, as clear as the tears on my cheeks. I wrote simply, as simple as the love of a mother. I swore that “my heart is beating for my children”. I said: “The small heart of my children misses me”. Alas! No one heard me and no one responded. I was patient and waited for a year — hoping that a conscience in this Land of the Asleep will feel some pain. It was for nothing. My motherly love was once more denied. Going against my desire and physical capability, I have no way left other than a hunger strike — to cry that I am a mother and that I miss my children. Maybe someone would feel compassion. Maybe someone would feel shame in their conscience. Maybe there is an end to this hostility and tyranny. I have no demand other than being able to call my children. Is this demand too large, unreasonable, immoral, illegal and a threat to security? Tell me and convince me. If a mother that a government has found guilty should be deprived from hearing the sound of her children, say so! If not, let this mother hear the voice of her children. The punishment of us, women and mothers, is imprisonment not not being able to hear the voice of our loved ones. Believe that we are humans.

Narges Mohammadi

Evin Prison

Narges Mohammadi is Deputy Director of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) in Iran. She was elected as President of the Executive Committee of the National Council of Peace in Iran, a broad coalition against war and for the promotion of human rights. She has campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty in Iran, and was awarded the Per Anger Prize by the Swedish government for her human rights work in 2011.

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It’s a human right: Each of us has the right to fundamental safety & security.

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The Advocates for Human Rights mourns the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of United States v. Texas, which has blocked President Obama’s executive actions on immigration for nearly two years and put the lives of an estimated 5 million people and their families on hold.

International human rights standards recognize that the United States, like all nations, has the right to control its borders.

But that right is not without limits. The United States also has the obligation to ensure that every person within our borders enjoys the fundamental rights that lead to a life with dignity.

For the millions of undocumented Americans, those most basic rights are denied every day because they lack immigration status. Families are separated. Support for basic needs is denied. Fear of arrest and deportation is exploited.

The fight for administrative relief has been a painful one. Millions of families have deferred their hopes of living a stable and predictable existence, if only for a brief time, while the case wound its way through the courts. Families have been irreparably torn apart by deportations, leaving hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizen children behind.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Central American refugees have been put at risk by an administration determined to deter them from seeking safety by detaining them upon arrival and prioritizing them for deportation. These wounds can heal, but they will never be erased.

At the same time, this struggle has been a turning point for the movement, which has floundered since 1996 to read the political tea leaves and calibrate the compromises needed to pass “reform” bills that would reinforce, rather than reverse, the fundamental injustices embedded in the current system. Increasingly advocates, activists, and those affected by decades of injustice have united behind a powerful new vision.

One America’s Rich Stolz recently wrote in the Huffington Post that the President Obama’s program would allow undocumented Americans to “gain the dignity of knowing that they have place in America.

National Immigration Law Center’s Marielena Hincapié, whose team has been leading the fight in U.S. v. Texas, tweeted recently, “We believe in a world in which all people can live with dignity.”

That vision is one of human rights. It takes as its starting point a recognition that each of us has the right to fundamental safety and security of the person – including a roof over our heads, food to eat, and health care when we need it. It also means freedom from arbitrary detention, a fair day in court, and the protection of the unity of the family. It recognizes these rights for every person without discrimination and it demands that failure to protect these rights be addressed.

Today, while we mourn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, we do so knowing that our vision is clear – that everyone, regardless of where they were born, has the right to enjoy the fundamental building blocks needed to live with dignity.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy and an experienced immigration attorney.

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A small group of people is changing the world for good

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“The world, if left to its own devices, is balanced evenly between good and bad. Each of us has the ability to tip it.” Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Especially today, with the horrific news of the Orlando mass shooting capturing people’s attention, a ray of optimism is needed. That beam of light was mighty and bright at our Human Rights Awards Dinner this month when we celebrated and honored people who are tipping the world in the right direction.

Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award

Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, addressing the Human Rights Awards Dinner audience.
Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, addressing the Human Rights Awards Dinner audience.

Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, received the esteemed Don & Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award for his work investigating and exposing some of the world’s most egregious human rights violations. The Advocates’ connection to Mr. Heyns’ work as a special rapporteur began in the 1980s when The Advocates developed the groundbreaking Minnesota Protocol, the first set of international guidelines for investigating suspicious unlawful deaths. Effective investigation is key to establishing responsibility and holding perpetrators accountable, but no international standards existed at the time that required governments to initiate or carry out investigations of suspected unlawful deaths. Read some of Mr. Heyns’ remarks and about the Human Rights Awards Dinner.

The UN adopted the Minnesota Protocol in 1991 with the official title, UN Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. The manual, widely known as the Minnesota Protocol, has been used in myriad investigative contexts in almost every region of the world. Last year, Mr. Heyns asked The Advocates to help update the Minnesota Protocol with forensic, medical, and other advancements since the original publication. “The need for clear international standards that encompass the realities of human rights abuses in the twenty-first century has resulted in the current revision,” said Mr. Heyns.

In addition to his UN role, Heyns is professor of human rights law and director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Special Recognition Award

David Wippman, Dean, University of Minnesota Law School
David Wippman, Dean, University of Minnesota Law School

David Wippman, Dean of University of Minnesota Law School, was honored with The Advocates’ 2016 Special Recognition Award in recognition of his career-long human rights work and his stewardship in the creation of the University of Minnesota Law School’s pioneering Center for New Americans.

The only program of its kind in the United States, the Center was designed to expand urgently needed legal services for non-citizens, pursue litigation to improve our nation’s immigration laws, and educate non-citizens about their rights. The Center has already seen notable successes, including a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Center is made possible through a partnership between The Law School, The Advocates, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and the law firms of Faegre Baker Daniels, Robins Kaplan, and Dorsey & Whitney.

“We honor Dean Wippman for changing the world and Minnesota for good and leaving our community a better place,” said Robin Phillips, The Advocates’ executive director.

Volunteer Recognition Awards

Mary Ellen Alden
Mary Ellen Alden

Mary Ellen Alden
Since Mary Ellen Alden began volunteering with The Advocates in 2012, she has represented 15 asylum seekers, including women fleeing domestic violence in Honduras and Ethiopia; political activists from Togo, Syria, and Ethiopia; and Oromo activists from Ethiopia. Her passion for justice for her clients is unparalleled.

“We are proud to count Mary Ellen among our award recipients this year,” said Sarah Brenes, director of The Advocates’ Refugee & Immigrant Program. “She is priceless.”

 

Thomas Dickstein
Thomas Dickstein

Thomas Dickstein
For his bar mitzvah, Thomas Dickstein asked for donations to support The Advocates’ Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal. When he traveled to Nepal and connected with the school’s students, he returned home fired up. Over time, Thomas led a book and backpack drive for the school, developed a PowerPoint presentation and a video to convince others about the school’s need and success. “Thomas sets a great example for all of us,” said Robin Phillips, The Advocates’ executive director. “Imagine what a world we would have if everyone followed his lead.”

 

Front row, left to right: Max Schott, Gayle Shaub, Dean Eyler, Nancy Quattlebaum Burke Back row, left to right: Craig Miller, Meg Martin, Ashley Bailey, Brian Dillon, Monica Kelley, Joy Anderson, Nicole Strydom, Leah Leyendecker, Tammy Mayer, Sandy Bodeau, Karlie Hussey, Brianna Mooty, Matthew Webster, Elizabeth Dillon. Not pictured: Hallie Goodman, Amanda Sicoli, Scott Wick, Jodee Marble.
Front row, left to right: Max Schott, Gayle Shaub, Dean Eyler, Nancy Quattlebaum Burke Back row, left to right: Craig Miller, Meg Martin, Ashley Bailey, Brian Dillon, Monica Kelley, Joy Anderson, Nicole Strydom, Leah Leyendecker, Tammy Mayer, Sandy Bodeau, Karlie Hussey, Brianna Mooty, Matthew Webster, Elizabeth Dillon. Not pictured: Hallie Goodman, Amanda Sicoli, Scott Wick, Jodee Marble.

Gray Plant Mooty
Led by attorneys Max Schott and Dean Eyler, the pro bono team at Gray Plant Mooty has taken on complex cases involving female genital mutilation, forced marriage, and levirate marriage (a widow forced to marry her deceased husband’s brother). Many of the cases required additional fact-finding and expert documentation to understand the nuanced nature of the harm their clients suffered and the cultural context of the country in which it occurred.

Their litigation expertise allowed them to draw out critical facts from the clients and piece together the claims in ways the court could understand. “We’re thankful for the team’s commitment, and we’re proud to count them among our volunteer award recipients,” said Sarah Brenes, director of The Advocates’ Refugee & Immigrant Program. The team includes Joy Anderson, Ashley Bailey, Sandra Bodeau, Nancy Quattlebaum Burke, Brian Dillon, Elizabeth Dillon, Dean Eyler, Hallie Goodman, Karli Hussey, Monica Kelley, Leah Leyendecker, Megan Martin, Craig Miller, Brianna Mooty, Max Schott, Amanda Sicoli, Nicole Strydom, Matthew Webster, and Scott Wick; and paralegals Jodee Marble, Tammy Mayer, and Gayle Schaub.


Henok Gabisa & Stinson Leonard Street

When Henok Gabisa asked The Advocates to submit a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, The Advocates turned for help to  Theresa Hughes, of Stinson Leonard Street, who assembled a fantastic team, including Neal Griffin, Marc Goldstein, Marcia Sanford, and Andrew Scavotto.

Presented The Advocates' Volunteer Service Award at the event was Henok Gabisa, attorney & Oromo Studies Association president, & attorneys from Stinson Leonard Street. The team works with The Advocates to hold Ethiopia accountable for persecuting Oromos.
Presented The Advocates’ Volunteer Service Award at the event was Henok Gabisa, attorney & Oromo Studies Association president, & attorneys from Stinson Leonard Street. The team works with The Advocates to hold Ethiopia accountable for persecuting Oromos.

Mr. Gabisa had approached The Advocates because of Ethiopia’s persecution of Oromos, the largest ethnic group in that country. While for decades the Ethiopian government has persecuted them, the government in 2014 used lethal force to
respond to peaceful Oromo student protests. Protesters, some young teens, were arrested, detained without charge, and labeled terrorists.

Mr. Gabsia and Stinson team members in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. interviewed witnesses in the United States and abroad, prepared affidavits, tracked down first-hand information, prepared briefs, and ensured witnesses do not face retaliation. Their work to hold the Ethopian government accountable is changing the world for good.

Stinson Team
The Stinson Leonard Street team includes (L-R) Neal Griffin, Marc Goldstein, Andrew Scavotto, & Marcia Stanford

Thomson Reuters
A team of Thomson Reuters’ employees is being recognized for its research on Human Rights Council recommendations to assist with Universal Periodic Review lobbying. Members of the Thomson Reuters team include Mark Petty, Matthew Buell, Marianne Krljic, Ethan Wood, Blake Hatling, Bryan Bearss, Chelsea Reynolds, and Benjamin Petersburg.

Thomson Reuters Award Recipients
The Thomson Reuters’ team includes (L-R) Bryan Bearss, Matthew Buell, Ethan Wood, Marianne Krljic, Mark Petty, Chelsea Reynolds, Benjamin Petersburg, & Blake Hatling.

Lobbying the UN Human Rights council is tricky. Human rights defenders need to know which countries will be receptive to certain issues, but countries’ priorities can be opaque, ever-changing. The Advocates needed a special research team, so it turned to Thomson Reuters. With a worldwide reputation for making complex legal information understandable and accessible, it is no surprise that Thomson Reuters created an amazing volunteer team to streamline The Advocates’ UN lobbying. Three times a year, team members pore through thousands of UN statements to identify countries that may be receptive to lobbying on women’s rights, the death penalty, and LGBTI rights.

“With a few clicks of the Thomson Reuters’ spreadsheet, we identify the countries to target for lobbying,” said Jennifer Prestholdt, director of The Advocates’ International Justice Program. “Their lists are spot-on, and they are changing the world for good.”

Suzanne Turner
Turner Suzanne without backgroundAs coordinator of Dechert’s pro bono work, Suzanne Turner is central to finding eager volunteers to help The Advocates. She even recruited her school-aged daughter to blog about women’s human rights. She also traveled with The Advocates twice to the other side of the world to conduct fact-finding and to document how to strengthen Mongolia’s response to domestic violence.

“Suzie lives our mission,” said Rose Park, Director, The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

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Changing the world for good = Minnesota’s The Advocates for Human Rights

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As bad as every day’s news looks, Christof Heyns says, the world is actually getting less violent. He should know. Serving as the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions since 2010, Heyns (pictured below) has spent years looking at the worst of what the world has to offer. But, he says, over four centuries, the percentage of people dying because of violence has declined. “Our standards and awareness are increasing,” he said, but the world is getting less violent.

Christof Heyns CMYK
Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, addressing the Human Rights Awards Dinner audience.

Heyns spoke at the annual awards dinner of The Advocates for Human Rights on June 1. The work of The Advocates is part of the reason that the world is getting less violent.

The Advocates for Human Rights is a Minnesota-grown organization, founded by advocates like Sam Heins and Barb Frey and David Weissbrodt decades ago, and still going strong. When doctor and human rights advocate Edwige Mubonzi had to flee for her life, she chose Minnesota because of Advocates for Human Rights and other human rights groups headquartered right here. In Minnesota, Mubonzi said, she knew she could find allies and continue to work for human rights.

The work of The Advocates for Human Rights comes from a small staff, hundreds of dedicated volunteers, and donations from people like you and me. Click here to donate. Click here to find out how you can volunteer. 

Dr. Mubonzi got asylum here in 2015, thanks to representation by The Advocates for Human Rights.

Edwige for year end letter CMYK 060716
Dr. Edwige Mubonzi

The surgeon who spent years repairing injuries to victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo is still working to end war and rape there, as well as studying for board exams that will allow her to resume practicing medicine, here in Minnesota. She is one of many individual asylum applicants represented by lawyers from The Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights is in the business of saving lives. One life at a time.

They’ve been in that business for 33 years now, and still going strong. Founded in 1983 as the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee, the organization became the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights in 1992 and The Advocates for Human Rights in 2008, reflecting its international work and impact. One of its first projects was The Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, internationally known as the “Minnesota Protocol.” The Minnesota Protocol, adopted by the UN as the official guide to forensic procedures for investigations and autopsies in cases of politically-motivated homicides, continues to be used around the world.

Intentionally and from the beginning, the work of The Advocates relied heavily on volunteers. Today, volunteer attorneys represent torture victims, Central American children, and hundreds of other asylum applicants. Their impact multiplies through well-informed, internationally respected advocacy at the United Nations and on the ground in countries from the United States to Croatia to Ethiopia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Advocates’ Rosalyn Park (far right) & Mary Ellison (third right) working in Croatia. Valentina Andrasek, executive director of Autonomous Women’s House Zagreb, is pictured third from left.

Last year, for example, Croatia reinstated laws against domestic violence, which had been removed from that country’s legal code years ago. The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program project helped women in Croatia to get the law reinstated. In 1996, Bulgarian women’s rights activists partnered with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program to compile a report on domestic violence, leading the country to pass legislation for a domestic violence order for protection, modeled after Minnesota’s law.

Henok Gabisa
Presented The Advocates’ Volunteer Recognition Award at the event was Henok Gabisa, attorney & Oromo Studies Association president, & attorneys from Stinson Leonard Street. The team works with The Advocates to hold Ethiopia accountable for persecuting Oromos.

In Ethiopia, the government persecutes Oromo people, and especially students.  The Advocates supports the work of Oromos in the diaspora as they document human rights abuses back home and work to raise international consciousness of their people’s plight. The Advocates’ volunteer attorneys also represent individuals fleeing torture and imprisonment in Ethiopia.

The Advocates train attorneys to represent asylum applicants, wherever they come from, and also provide human rights education for high school students and for other groups and organizations.

Here at home, The Advocates worked with others to get Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law passed, so that young women can find a way out of prostitution and into safe homes instead of prisons. The Safe Harbor law is one part of The Advocates’ work to stop human trafficking, both labor and sex trafficking, here and in other countries.

Open doors with words
Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law protects sex trafficking’s youngest victims.

Here at home, The Advocates’ National Asylum Help Line, started last summer, has answered calls from more than a thousand refugees from Central America.

Changing the world for good, said The Advocates board member Jim O’Neal at the annual awards dinner on June 1, is “a simple factual description of what The Advocates do every day and around the world.”

The world, said Christof Heyns, “if left to its own devices, is balanced evenly between good and bad. … Each of us has the ability to tip it.”

Yes, said Executive Director Robin Phillips, “We CAN do something about human rights. We CAN be the change we want to see in the world.”

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor who teaches writing and journalism at Metropolitan State University and Macalester College. She is the former editor of the TC Daily Planet and of the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, a recovering attorney, and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.

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“20 minutes of action” for you means a lifetime of hell for her

Brock Turner 2
Brock Turner, convicted sex offender

Brock Allen Turner: Your father deemed your sexual assault of an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster on the Stanford University campus as your “20 minutes of action.” For her, that 20 minutes is a lifetime of hell.

What you did on that January night in 2015 is sickening and horrific. So is what has happened since. You, your father, your attorney, the judge presiding over your case, and others prove once again that the rape culture in the United States is “alive and well,” with sexual violence and assault normalized and victims blamed for being attacked.

Where do I start? It goes from worse to intolerable, including treating you, a convicted sex offender, with kid gloves; inflaming the excuse-the-rapist/blame-the-victim mentality; refusing accountability and making excuses; and favoring violent perpetrators lucky enough to have the “right” skin color, privilege, and athletic skills.

Unfortunately, in our work to make the world a better, safer place for women, we at The Advocates for Human Rights all too often experience the travesties and miscarriages of justice such as those rife in the your case.

Your preferential treatment includes the shocking sentence handed down by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky. For three violent felony convictions, the judge sentenced you to a mere six months in county jail, far less than the 14-year maximum sentence and the six years in state prison the prosecutors had requested. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Persky lamented, more concerned about the welfare of a star athlete than he was for the victim. Lucky you — you could be back walking the streets after only three months if you behave yourself. Now, your attorneys have stated you will appeal your convictions.

Your case held the potential of being a landmark in the nationwide struggle to combat sexual assault on campus. Judge Persky could have sent the message that no one is above the law, regardless of social class, race, gender, or other factors. Instead, he did the opposite, making women at Stanford and across the country less safe.

Not only does Judge Perksy’s gentle “punishment” give license to potential perpetrators, it further violates women and girls who are assaulted, and deepens and perpetuates their fears. Knowing they will relive the assaults and be traumatized over and over again and cognizant that their own behaviors will be scrutinized, victims are kept in the dark — silent, shamed, and shredded of value.

Attention to and accountability for your actions was clearly and intentionally directed away from you. You and others say you are not responsible―the alcohol and the victim are to blame. Despite the guilty verdicts, you refuse to acknowledge what you did. You told Judge Persky that the “party culture” had “shattered” you, causing you to assault the woman.

Having a drinking problem is different than drinking and forcing someone to have sex. “Alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked,” the victim said in her statement directed at you. She further stated:

Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference.

Those of us who are horrified by your case can be inspired by the words of the woman who survived it:

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

Note: It was decided to use Brock Turner’s class photo — a picture of a smiling, seemingly “nice,” wholesome guy. This photo was used in stories about his crimes, until recently. It seemed to influence and shape how many talked about his crime, including a very sympathetic, “once promising” Washington Post story, complete with details of his illustrous swimming career. It should be noted that it wasn’t until this week — after many demands and finger pointing — that Turner’s mugshot was finally released.

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“This is my fight song, my take back my life song”

Why we fight

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). Created in 2004 to raise awareness about the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTI people internationally, it has become a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The date of May 17 was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision in 1990 to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

International DayThis year, IDAHOT’s theme focuses on mental health and well-being, with an emphasis on depathologizing LGBT people and bringing an end to “conversion” and other therapies claiming to change sexual orientation and gender identities.

In honor of IDAHOT 2016, we put together a list of nine basic things that everyone needs to know about international LGBTI rights.

1.
Internationally, the acronyms LGBT and LGBTI
(standing for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
intersex”) are the most commonly used terms.

While many understand the meaning of the terms lesbian, gay and bisexual, some may be unfamiliar with the other terms. As defined by the United Nations’ Free & Equal Campaign, transgender (sometimes shortened to “trans”) is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of identities — including transsexual people, cross-dressers, people who identify as third gender, and others whose appearance and characteristics are perceived as gender atypical. Some transgender people seek surgery or take hormones to bring their body into alignment with their gender identity; others do not. An intersex person is born with sexual anatomy, reproductive organs, and/or chromosome patterns that do not fit the typical definition of male or female. An intersex person may identify as male or female or as neither. Intersex status is not about sexual orientation or gender identity: intersex people experience the same range of sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) as non-intersex people.

It is worth noting that other terms are also used when talking about LGBTI rights. In many countries, the term MSM (“men who have sex with men”) is also used, particularly in the public health context of the fight against HIV/AIDS. MSM is also used in recognition of the fact that some men engaged in same-sex relations may not identify as gay or bisexual. Different cultures also have their own terms to describe people who form same-sex relationships and those who exhibit non-binary gender identities (such as hijra, meti, lala, skesana, motsoalle, mithli, kuchu, kawein, muxé, fa’afafine, fakaleiti, hamjensgara and Two-Spirit).

2.
SOGI stands for “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

As the UN states, sexual orientation refers to a person’s physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction towards other people. Sexual orientation is not related to gender identity. Gender identity reflects a deeply felt and experienced sense of one’s own gender. For transgender people, there is an inconsistency between their sense of their own gender and the sex they were assigned at birth.

3.
Private, consensual same-sex conduct
is a crime in at least 76 countries.

Because of these discriminatory laws, millions of LGBTI persons around the world face the risk of arrest, prosecution and imprisonment every day. And in as many as 10 countries, same-sex acts can be punished with the death penalty.

Laws that criminalize private, consensual sexual relationships between adults violate the rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination under international law. In addition to violating these basic rights, criminalization legitimizes prejudice in society at large and exposes people to hate crimes, police abuse, torture and family violence. The Advocates’ partner organization LGBT Voice Tanzania has reported that because Tanzania criminalizes homosexual conduct, police officers harass, abuse, and demean LGBTI people with impunity, and often disregard complaints brought by LGBTI persons about harassment from others. Police routinely use violence and coercion against the LGBTI community, including torture, blackmail, corrective rape, detention without charge, and arbitrary charges. Many are forced to bribe officers to get out of jail for these arbitrary charges.

Further, criminalization hampers efforts to halt the spread of HIV by deterring LGBT people from coming forward for testing and treatment for fear of revealing criminal activity.

4.
LGBTI people and rights are not a Western export.

LGBTI people exist everywhere — in all countries, among all ethnic groups, at all socioeconomic levels, and in all communities. Further, global archeological and anthropological evidence — from prehistoric rock paintings in South Africa and Egypt to ancient Indian medical texts and early Ottoman literature — show that LGBTI people have always been a part of our communities. In fact in many parts of the world, it was Western colonial powers that imposed the criminal laws that punish same-sex conduct.

Click on the interactive map below that shows how colonization spread homophobic legislation to many parts of the world.

map for blog

5.
Some countries are passing “gay propaganda” laws
and other discriminatory laws that limit the rights
to free speech, freedom of association, and assembly.

In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law Federal Law 135, banning propaganda to minors about “non-traditional sexual relations.” Article 3(2)(b) of Federal Law 135 imposes administrative fines and, in the case of non-citizens, deportation, for:

Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors, including
distribution of information that intends minors to adopt non-traditional
sexual orientations, that makes non-traditional sexual relations attractive,
that presents distorted conceptions of the social equivalence of traditional
and non-traditional sexual relations, or that imposes information about non-traditional sexual relations that evokes interest in these relations.

The vague language describing the prohibited conduct and the steep fines that escalate for individuals who distribute their “propaganda” on the internet are designed to chill speech and stifle any efforts to provide support to LGBTI youth in Russia.

Nearly identical proposals have been introduced throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with proposals currently are under discussion in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Lithuania and Indonesia.

6.
LGBTI persons around the world
experience widespread violence.

While official data on international homophobic and transphobic violence is difficult to obtain, the information that is available shows a clear pattern of widespread, brutal violence, often committed with impunity. Human rights violations experienced by LGBTI persons can include violent attacks, ranging from aggressive verbal abuse and psychological bullying to physical assault, beatings, torture, kidnapping and targeted killings. Sexual abuse and violence is also common, sometimes at the hands of the police. While violence can be perpetrated by individuals or groups and takes place in both public and private spaces, a common characteristic of many anti-LGBT hate crimes is their brutality. The torture and murder of Cameroonian activist Eric Ohena Lembembe in July 2013 is just one example, but one that hits close to home for The Advocates for Human Rights. Shortly before he was murdered, we partnered with Eric and his organization CAMFAIDS to write a report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Cameroon.

7.
LGBTI persons around the world experience
discriminatory treatment every day, in workplaces,
schools, family homes, and health care settings.

In Tanzania, for example, LGBTI youth are expelled from school simply because of actual or suspected sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these youth are also rejected by their families and are left to fend for themselves. Anti-LGBTI discrimination in the health sector includes denial of service, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality, all justified by the criminalization of same-sex conduct. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in 2015 that national laws in most countries do not provide adequate protection from employment-related discrimination on grounds of SOGI, allowing employers to fire or refuse to hire or promote people simply because they are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Map 2 for blog

Discrimination has a tremendous personal cost for those who experience it. Rates of poverty, homelessness, depression and suicide are far higher among LGBT people than in the general population. But the UN Free and Equal Campaign  argues that we all pay a price: a study of 39 countries showed that the marginalization of the LGBT community was causing a substantial loss of potential economic output. “Every LGBT child thrown out of home and forced to miss out on education is a loss for society. Every LGBT worker denied their rights is a lost opportunity to build a fairer and more productive economy.”



8.
International law protects LGBTI rights.

The right to equality and non-discrimination are core human rights principles included in the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and all multilateral human rights treaties. The equality and non-discrimination guarantee provided by international human rights law applies to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or “other status.”

According to the United Nations, governments have core legal obligations to protect the human rights of LGBT people, including obligations to:

Protect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence and prevent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Countries should enact hate crime laws that discourage violence against individuals based on sexual orientation, and set up effective systems for reporting hate motivated acts of violence, including effectively investigating, and prosecuting perpetrators, bringing those responsible to justice. They should provide training to law enforcement officers and monitor places of detention, and provide a system for victims to seek remedies. Additionally, asylum laws and policies should recognize that persecution based on sexual orientation may be a valid basis for an asylum claim.

Repeal laws criminalizing homosexuality including all legislation that criminalizes private sexual conduct between consenting adults. Ensure that individuals are not arrested or detained on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and are not subjected to any degrading physical examinations intended to determine their sexual orientation.

Prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Enact legislation that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Provide education and training to prevent discrimination and stigmatization of LGBT and intersex people.

Safeguard freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all LGBT people and ensure that any restrictions on these rights – even where such restrictions purport to serve a legitimate purpose and are reasonable and proportionate in scope – are not discriminatory on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Promote a culture of equality and diversity that encompasses respect for the rights of LGBT people.

9.
You can take action to support LGBTI rights in
your community and around the world.

May 17 is the single most important annual date for global LGBTI mobilization and awareness raising. Research has shown that 17% of all annual discussions on Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia are generated around the IDAHOT. Those discussions are happening in almost every country in the world. Please share this article and others that raise awareness about LGBTI rights on social media.

Learn more about The Advocates for Human Rights’ work on LGBTI rights here. Read Staff attorney Amy Bergquist’s article about our strategies in “Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies For Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World.”

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, The Advocates for Human Rights’ deputy director, and director of its International Justice Program. Prestholdt also coordinates The Advocates’ school in Nepal, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School.

Learn more about #IDAHOT and ways to take action here.

Find out more about events being held in countries around the world here.

And keeping fighting for the rights of LGBTI persons, wherever they are in the world! The UN Free & Equal Campaign released this inspiring video “Why We Fight” of courageous LGBTI activists and allies around the world and the rights that they are fighting for.

More posts by The Advocates for Human Rights on international  LGBTI rights:

Anti-LGBTI Discrimination Harms Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS

African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

Leading By Example: The International Impact of Marriage Equality Ruling

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

“Look at the details of Eric Ohena Lembembe’s life and you will understand why he died.”

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Recent Anti-LGBTI Laws Violate Human Rights

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

Featured

Let’s jail the children and call it child care

Child from Honduras

Texas, leading the nation as always, granted a child care license to a jail on April 29. It’s a special, private jail, an immigration detention center in Karnes City run by the private, for-profit GEO Group. The Texas license comes in response to a federal judge’s order that migrant children must be released from detention centers because it’s against the law to hold kids in unlicensed facilities. (A few days after the license was issues, a Texas judge blocked, at least temporarily, a second license for another immigration jail and set a hearing on the licenses for May 13.)

Testimony offered last year by a social worker who quit working at the Karnes detention center gives some idea of why it’s a bad place for children (and their mothers). The Los Angeles Times reported:

“López, whose story began emerging this week ahead of Tuesday’s forum, said her work at the detention center forced her to do things that as a social worker she regarded as unethical.

“In some cases, she said, the company told her to omit some information from the immigrants’ files, including complaints about medical conditions, such as a woman with recurrent headaches who had a family history of brain aneurysms. …

“She said she saw a 5-year-old Central American girl, who had been raped and physically abused during the journey, lose weight at the detention center and start wearing diapers.

“When she reported the girl’s conditions to her boss, a psychologist, she said he discharged the girl with a note saying she was sleeping and eating better. “When López submitted a note in response reiterating that the girl had lost weight, another supervisor told her she was mistaken. ‘I can discern an increase and a decrease’ in weight, López said.

“When dozens of women at the detention center staged a hunger strike this spring, several of the leaders reported being placed in isolation in the medical unit with their children, an allegation López corroborated.”

(For more description of conditions at Karnes and other detention centers, see this MSNBC report and this News Day post on hunger strikes in for-profit immigration prisons and this report from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and this article from the Texas Observer.

The U.S. is jailing more children and families now than a year ago, with the number seized at the border more than doubled in the past year. During the first half of FY2016, which began on October 1 2015, some 32,117 family members were detained at the border. In addition, 27754 unaccompanied children were detained – also a big increase over last year, according to Pew Research Center. Mexican migrant apprehensions have dropped to their lowest level since 1969. The vast majority of family members and unaccompanied children apprehended at the border come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

As the New York Times editorialized in April:

“Those three countries are among the most violent corners of our hemisphere. El Salvador is the world’s murder capital. Honduras and Guatemala are not far behind. All are plagued by an epidemic of killings of women and children — by gang and drug warfare and by political oppression. The United States remains a rich and stable neighbor, more than capable of helping to stabilize the region and of welcoming and protecting the desperate people who have fled by the thousands to the Texas border.”

Other, cheaper, more humane solutions exist. Releasing families to await hearings, even with ankle monitors, would be far cheaper than imprisonment. Except that the government has contracts with Geo Croup and Corrections Corporation of America — the two giant for-profit prison companies — to fill the beds with prisoners.

In two reports issued May 5, the Center for American Progress lays out short-term and medium to long-term plans to address the Central American refugee situation. Among the short-term actions:

  • “As soon as possible following apprehension, each person should receive a “know your rights” presentation by a qualified nongovernmental organization, or NGO.
  • “The U.S. government must ensure that the protections for unaccompanied children in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, or TVPRA, remain intact.
  • “Every immigration agency dealing with children—from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of Immigration Review to the Office of Refugee Resettlement—should adopt the ‘best interest of the child’ principle in all aspects of care—from apprehension, shelter, and release to immigration proceedings.”

The report goes on to detail specific steps, including closing the Karnes and Dilley detention centers and ending so-called “rocket dockets” that rush children and families to deportation.

The report on medium and long-term solutions includes discussion of “run-away levels of crime and violence,” including high rates of femicide, which are driving the refugees from Central America. In the medium term, the report recommends specific steps to protect refugees and aid resettlement. In the long term, the report says:

“The United States must recognize that fundamental change across the Northern Triangle requires buy-in from regional governments, elites, and societies and should use all available policy and diplomatic tools in order to encourage these groups to focus on meaningful change that promotes citizen security and sustainable economic development.”

Specific recommendations begin with establishing “accountability and the rule of law” in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

None of these solutions are easy. The easy solution is to license jails as child care centers, and to continue filling them with mothers and children.

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor who teaches writing and journalism at Metropolitan State University and Macalester College. She is the former editor of the TC Daily Planet and of the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, a recovering attorney, and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. 

Featured

Bringing Human Rights Abusers to Justice in U.S. Courts

 

Nushin & Amy
Guest speaker Nushin Sarkarati from the Center for Justice & Accountability, with Karl Procaccini, President of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter of the American Constitution Society, and Amy Bergquist, International Justice Program Staff Attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights.

Nushin Sarkarati from the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) was invited by The Advocates for Human Rights to present a Continuing Legal Education seminar on recent developments in litigation in U.S. courts to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses around the world. Ms. Sarkarati is a CJA staff attorney whose practice focuses on Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) litigation in federal court.

CJA CLEThe ATS is a U.S. federal law first adopted in 1789 that gives the federal courts jurisdiction to hear lawsuits filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law. Today, the ATS gives survivors of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the right to bring civil lawsuits against the perpetrators in the United States. Examples of the kinds of conduct covered by the ATS include torture, extrajudicial killing, forced disappearance, war crimes and crimes against humanity, genocide, slavery, prolonged arbitrary detention and state-sponsored sexual violence.

Under the 1991 TVPA, survivors who have no available local remedies in the country where the human rights abuses  happened can file a civil lawsuit in the U.S. for damages against someone who, “under actual or apparent authority, or color of law, of any foreign nation” subjected an individual to torture or to extrajudicial killing in another country. The TVPA has a 10-year statute of limitations but equitable tolling may be available depending on the facts of the case.

Ms. Sarkarati gave an overview of the history and caselaw, from the landmark ATS case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala (2d Cir 1980) to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petrol (US 2013) which limits the ATS to claims that “touch and concern the territory of the United States with sufficient force.” She also discussed both the legal and practical challenges involved in litigating these cases.

While ATS and TVPA litigation in U.S. courts does not result in jail time for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations, there are other important reasons for using civil litigation as an accountability mechanism including:

  • Redress for victims;
  • Ending impunity by exposing human rights abusers;
  • Denying safe haven to perpetrators in the U.S.;
  • Documenting history and deterring future abuses;
  • Developing human rights precedent in domestic courts; and
  • Advancing transitional justice.

The Advocates for Human Rights co-sponsored the CLE with the American Constitution Society’s Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter, MSBA Human Rights Committee, Minnesotan Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and International Law Section of the Federal Bar Association. The law firm of Fredrikson & Byron hosted the CLE.

Learn more about strategies and tools for holding human rights violators accountable in Chapter 8: Accountability of The Advocates’ manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director of The Advocates of Human Rights and director of its International Justice Program.

The U.S. runs with a devil

FeaturedThe U.S. runs with a devil

You may never have heard of the Oromo people, the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia. You might be surprised to learn that if you are a U.S. taxpayer, you are subsidizing their oppression.

On Tuesday, April 19, a Congressional commission named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission conducted a hearing on human rights conditions in Ethiopia. The Commission provides information concerning human rights to Congress, so it is particularly fitting that it should inquire into conditions in Ethiopia. That country has been a major ally of the United States and recipient of U.S. humanitarian and military aid for all of the years Ethiopia’s current regime has been in power. Since 2013, the United States has given in the range of half a billion dollars per year in foreign aid to Ethiopia, plus a much smaller amount of military aid, which means the United States is Ethiopia’s largest and most important source of foreign assistance.

In July 2015, President Obama visited Ethiopia, drawing widespread criticism from human rights groups for his warm words toward the country and his relatively milquetoast references to its abysmal human rights record. Obama said that the Prime Minister of what he referred to as the “democratically elected” Ethiopian government “would be the first to acknowledge that there is more work to be done” in the field of human rights.

Well, yes. The ruling party in Ethiopia won all 547 seats in Parliament following the elections that occurred just two months before Obama’s visit, and the “democratically elected” Prime Minister was allocated 100 percent of the vote. U.S. officials were prohibited from acting as election observers. The election featured denials of registrations for opposition candidates, while journalists were arrested and threatened. After the election, at least three opposition politicians were murdered, with no investigations conducted.

The government’s security forces employ murder and torture. In 2014, they fired into crowds of peaceful students who were protesting the government’s “land grab” for the benefit of international development interests, which would potentially displace an estimated two million Oromo. Dozens were killed. Many more were arrested and remain in prison. The killings continue. According to Human Rights Watch, relying on reports of activists, at least 75 protesters were killed by government security forces in November and December 2015, while the government only acknowledged five deaths. The actual figures are likely much greater than is known, since the government tightly restricts access to such information. There is no freedom of the press, no independent judiciary, no adherence to international human rights standards beyond lip service.

The Ethiopian government is adept at achieving the maximum oppression while drawing minimal attention to its human rights abuses. It signs onto numerous international human rights conventions, although it routinely violates them. It purports to allow local human rights organizations to exist, although its Charities and Societies Proclamation makes it largely impossible for them to operate by denying the organizations international funding.

Perhaps most impressive, the government masterfully plays the terrorism card. In 2009, it adopted the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, allowing draconian treatment of persons accused of being “terrorists,” largely an arbitrary term for those opposing actions of the Ethiopian government and wishing to bring about change. The government frequently brands protesting Oromo and others as “terrorists” to justify imprisoning or killing them.

The Tom Lantos Commission should disseminate to Congress all possible documentation of the crimes of the Ethiopian government. In turn, Congress should find ways to be sure the United States ratchets up the pressure on its strategic ally far beyond clubby acknowledgements of “more work to be done.” The spigot of international development money should not remain open without real and fundamental changes in the human rights environment in Ethiopia, beginning with an end to extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings; a release of political prisoners; restoration of a free press and independent judiciary; and the repeal or modification of the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Law.

By: James O’Neal, retired attorney and member of The Advocates for Human Rights’ board of directors, and Robin Phillips, the organization’s executive director. Deeply concerned about continuing human rights violations in Ethiopia, The Advocates has consistently raised concerns about the treatment of Oromos in Ethiopia at UN human rights bodies and with the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights.

Pictured above: Amaanee Badhasso, International Oromo Youth Association’s president in 2014, accompanied The Advocates’ Amy Bergquist to Geneva that year to meet with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Read other blog posts about Ethiopia’s persecution of the Oromo by entering “Ethiopia” or “Oromo” in the blog’s search bar.

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Conference on the Status of Women proved weary, but source of optimism

 

CSW event
When The Advocates for Human Rights asked whether we wanted to join them at the UN Commission on the Status of Women’s 60 session (CSW), we jumped at the opportunity. There, we spent three days of the two-week conference participating in seminars and listening to politicians and experts speak on topics relating to The Advocates’ work to eliminate exploitation, violence, and abuse of women and children.

At CSW, activists, politicians, academics, and representatives of NGOs from nearly 200 countries came together. They came to learn best practices, create partnerships with organizations such as The Advocates, and develop methodologies of government action and accountability to eliminate violence against women.

At two filled-to-capacity presentations, The Advocates’ experts detailed the partnerships they have in Moldova and Bulgaria, countries in which The Advocates uses laws, policies, and trainings to tackle domestic violence. “There is no need to recreate the wheel because much of the legislative work, social policy, training, and—most importantly—best practices have been researched, tested, and proven,” Rosalyn Park, director of The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program. “Our partnerships allow us to share best practices, tools, and experiences to advocate for safety and rights of women.”

Discussion topics were often distressing, covering topics such as sex and labor trafficking, prostitution, child pornography, physical violence against women and children, inequality in the workforce, and the need for more women in politics. Nonetheless, forum participants were energized.

We also made discoveries at CSW—much is being done, from African countries, to Canadian provinces, to Eastern European countries to improve the lives with government working in conjunction with NGOs and other nonprofits. We left the conference weary, but optimistic. We are assured that given time, women’s status in the world will improve. It was a time neither of us will ever forget.

By Cheryl Olseth (pictured left) and Rachel Hamlin (pictured right), volunteers with The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Stopping private prison profiteering in Minnesota

Child or woman's hand in jail

They are not building these prisons to stay empty,” Reverend Ovester Armstrong, Jr. told protesters at the Minnesota State Office Building on March 22. “They are building these prisons to fill them up.” Inside, the House Public Safety Committee held hearings on re-opening a private prison in Appleton. The private prison is owned by the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the largest prison company in the United States.

“We should help people, not make money off of them,” said Reverend Armstrong. “We should not let someone’s life be held hostage to a dollar bill.”

Bad for prisoners, bad for the rest of us
Private prisons are for-profit operations. They make money by minimizing services.

Joe Broge, a correctional officer at Stillwater, said at the protest rally that he worked at Stillwater when the CCA prison in Appleton was open before, and heard stories from the inmates who were placed there. “There are reasons why per diem in private prisons is lower,” he said, “and none of those reasons are good ones.”

Private prisons skim the “easiest” prisoners from the public institutions, then skimp on rehabilitation and medical services. They pay employees less than those working in state prisons, and provide far less training and supervision, resulting in unsafe conditions, and putting prisoners, staff and the public at risk.

In the hearing, Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, testified that “Who we do business with is just as important as the business we do. Doing business with the CCA is like doing business with the devil, because their practices are diabolical.”

Big bucks in for-profit prisons
The private prison industry is huge. CCA is the biggest player, with $1.7 billion in income in 2011. Its CEO was paid $3.7 million in 2011. CCA spent $17.4 million on lobbying from 2003-2012 and $1.9 million in political contributions.

About 131,000 prisoners were held by private prisons in 2014, according to the U.S. government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

Race is in the equation
Across the country, the justice system disproportionately imprisons black men. BJS reports, “In 2014, 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison, compared to 2% of Hispanic and 1% of white males in the same age group.”

Protesters called prisons “a new wave of slavery.” They pointed to the need for more social programs rather than more prisons. Minnesota’s racial disparities in housing, income, health and education extend to the state’s prison system:

  • “Black people make up less than 6 percent of Minnesota’s population, according to 2013 census estimates, but made up 35 percent of the prison population as of January 2015.
  • “Native Americans comprise about 1 percent of Minnesotans, but accounted for about 10 percent of the state’s prisoners.
  • “White people make up the vast majority of the state population — 86 percent — but only 53 percent of the inmate population.”

Putting more people in prison
Overall, Minnesota keeps too many people in prison for too long. According to the Star Tribune,

” Over the past 25 years, the state’s incarceration rate has soared by 150 percent, and Minnesota’s prisons are bloated beyond capacity and burdened by runaway costs. The majority of that growth can be attributed to harsher penalties and other changes to the state’s criminal code passed by state lawmakers.”

Much of that increase comes from war-on-drugs legislation which greatly increased the penalties for drug offenses. As a result, reports the Star Tribune, “From 1998 to 2005, the state’s drug-crime inmate population more than tripled from 700 to nearly 2,200.”

Private prisons contribute to filling the prisons: contracts frequently require governments to keep the for-profit prison full or at 90 percent of capacity.

In its 2014 annual report, CCA warned stockholders that “The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.”

Do private prisons save money?
Profit drives private prisons. The original rationalization for the government to contract with them was saving money. That hasn’t worked out so well.

The Arizona Republic fact-checked claims, and found that

“There is no universally accepted method when comparing private and state-run prison costs. However, the most recent Corrections Department study that attempts to compare prison types on a level playing field concluded that per inmate costs were cheaper in state-run prisons than in private prisons.”

According to a study from the University of Wisconsin, “inmates in private prisons are likely to serve as many as two to three more months behind bars than those assigned to public prisons and are equally likely to commit more crimes after release, despite industry claims to lower recidivism rates.” Keeping people in prison longer, the study notes, means more income for the for-profit prisons.

What’s next?
While the House Public Safety Committee voted 10-7 along party lines to approve the prison proposal, the proposal is not likely to go anywhere this session. (Sally Jo Sorenson has been reporting extensively on the story at Bluestem Prairie. Subscribe to her blog for continuing updates.)

Though the Republican committee vote sent the bill to the Ways and Means committee, the DFL-majority Senate is unlikely to consider the measure. Governor Mark Dayton has already rejected reopening the Appleton prison. The Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission has proposed reducing sentences for many drug offenders rather than opening new prisons. Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy testified that expanding prisons is not on the DOC agenda.

Even if this private prison proposal does not move forward, other creeping prison privatization continues in areas from medical care to phone service to in-prison employment and post-prison release services. But that’s a matter for another day.

For more information:

mary-turck-photoBy: Guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor who teaches writing and journalism at Metropolitan State University and Macalester College.

She is also the former editor of the TC Daily Planet and of the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, a recovering attorney, and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. Her career in journalism began when she was in high school, writing a weekly column for the Litchfield Independent Review. The column began with a multi-part investigative journalism series on the county school system, which she still considers among her best work.

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The Minnesota Protocol: Creating Guidelines for Effective Investigations

MP Infographic Dashes Featured News

Back in the 1980s, a small group of Minnesota lawyers was concerned about the lack of accountability for the 1983 political assassination of Benigno Aquino in the Philippines and many other suspected unlawful deaths happening in the world. Effective investigation is key to establishing responsibility and holding perpetrators accountable, but no international standards existed at the time that required governments to initiate or carry out investigations of suspected unlawful deaths.

The need for international standards and guidelines for death investigations
Clearly, there was a need for international standards regarding death investigations, as well as practical guidelines for how those investigations should be done.  In 1983, as its very first project, The Advocates for Human Rights (then known as the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee) took action by engaging local and international experts in law and forensic science. The project’s researchers and authors―almost all volunteers―included David Weissbrodt, Sam Heins, Barbara Frey, Don Fraser, Tom Johnson, Lindsey Thomas, Garry Peterson, Jim Roth, Bob Sands, Sonia Rosen and Marie Bibus and many others.  They worked on successive drafts for several years.

In 1987, at the Spring Hill Conference Center in Wayzata, the final details of what would come to be the Minnesota Protocol were hammered out.  There were two parts: 1) international legal standards detailing the duty of governments to prevent, investigate and initiate legal proceedings after a suspicious and unlawful death; and 2) guidelines for how to conduct effective investigations, as well as model protocols for conducting autopsies and for disinterment and analysis of skeletal remains.

In 1989, the standards were incorporated into the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, which was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. The UN formally adopted the guidelines in 1991 as the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and  Investigation  of  Extra-Legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions.  For the first time, the world had a set of international standards and guidelines for effective investigation.

Despite its official UN title, however, the UN Manuel has been commonly referred to as the Minnesota Protocol.

UN-mandated Principles & Manual are key to investigations
Together, the Principles and the Manual are the key UN-mandated texts that have provided guidance for 25 years on the international duty to investigate violations of the right to life and best practices for conducting autopsies and forensic analysis of suspicious deaths in custody.

The Minnesota Protocol has been used in myriad investigative contexts in almost every region of the world. When Tom Johnson led a team of Gray Plant Mooty attorney volunteers to research the Minnesota Protocol’s impact, they found that it has been cited as the yardstick for conducting investigations by international human rights bodies, regional bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as national courts in India, Australia, and other countries.

Perhaps more important, however, is how the Minnesota Protocol has been used in practice. The Minnesota Protocol has guided investigations throughout the world, including in Rwanda, Bosnia, and East Timor.  St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario described in his May 15, 2013 article how using the Minnesota Protocol has led to accountability for human rights violations in Guatemala and other places in the world.

I can also tell you about the Minnesota Protocol’s impact from my personal, in-the-field experience. In Peru, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told me proudly that they were using the Minnesota Protocol in their work exhuming mass graves.  Family members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) bring this document to the police. I’ve been told by colleagues that the Minnesota Protocol is the most effective tool they have to remind their government of the duty to conduct an effective investigation when there is a suspected unlawful death. Forensic experts  have told me that they bring copies of the model autopsy protocol with them when conducting investigations in the field, writing their notes in it.

MP Infographic Website

Much has changed in the world since the 1980s
It goes without saying that forensic science, DNA analysis, and other technologies have advanced greatly since the original Minnesota Protocol was drafted. International law has also advanced. Now, there are clear, internationally-accepted principles as to what constitutes the legal duty to investigate―investigations must be prompt, thorough, effective, transparent, independent and impartial. The rights of victims are now acknowledged in international law, including the rights of families to know what happened to their loved ones and to reparation and other remedies. Society as a whole has a right to know the truth about what really happened in order to prevent those human rights abuses from happening again.

For years there has been discussion at the UN about updating the Minnesota Protocol for the 21st century. Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, began in 2015 to make it a reality, inviting The Advocates to be a part of the revision process. Along with University of Minnesota professor Barbara Frey―one of the original drafters of the Minnesota Protocol―and other human rights law experts, I serve on the Legal Investigations Working Group. There is also a Forensics Working Group and a larger Advisory Panel, which includes several of the original authors. As it was in the 1980s, the work involves extensive contributions by international experts in law, forensics, and crime scene investigation.

Plans for the new version call for including the Minnesota Protocol in the official title.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt is deputy director of The Advocates of Human Rights and  director of it International Justice Program.

Featured

Learn how YOU can help end sex trafficking

Puppet RGB
Police may be the first to spring to mind when thinking about who are on the front lines to help end sex trafficking. But most people no matter where you live or work can help end this devastating human rights violation.

Hotel Workers
Hotel staff can help identify potential victims and deter trafficking by keeping an eye out for guests who:

  • Have no luggage or ID;
  • Pay for rooms in cash; rent rooms for others; and/or use third-party reservations;
  • Repeatedly request access cards for different people;
  • Appear fearful, disoriented, or disheveled;
  • Show signs of physical abuse;
  • Are restricted from moving or communicating;
  • Are young and made to look significantly older;
  • Are young but have significantly older “boyfriends”;
  • Wait for periods of time in the lobby, talking on the phone;
  • Do not fit together;
  • Stay for short durations (20–60 minutes);
  • Continue to refuse housekeeping services;
  • Have multiple credit cards or excessive cash, and multiple computers, smartphones, tablets, and laptops;
  • Have excessive number of visitors, especially men;
  • Are men leaving alone and returning with young women; or
  • Have escort and massage ads in their rooms, and/or have excessive pornography or any child pornography.

Teachers
Among their students, teachers should look for students who:

  • Have frequent unexcused absences or an inability to attend class;
  • Have histories attending many different schools or recent multiple transfers;
  • Indicate meals, food, and money are limited or regulated, or they need to help family with money;
  • Have unreasonable work/chore expectations at home;
  • Travel frequently;
  • Use language such as “a train” or a “train party”;
  • Have overly controlling or abusive boyfriends;
  • Possess expensive items seeming out of character;
  • Have numerous inconsistencies when recounting life outside of school;
  • Show signs of physical abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol addiction, and/or high-risk or self-injurious behavior;
  • Resist or are emotionally triggered by touch;
  • Fall asleep in class and are usually fatigued;
  • Have tattoos or other “branding”;
  • Are overly shy about changing clothes or refuse to participate in physical education;
  • Demonstrate unusually fearful, anxious, depressed, or angry behavior;
  • Have familiarity with places selling commercial sex, such as Backpage.com;
  • Show signs of physical abuse, including bruises, cuts, broken teeth and bones, scars, and unattended infections; or
  • Seem to lack basic medical care for illness or injury.

Building Officials
License and code compliance officials have unique access to businesses and properties. While conducting inspections, they should keep an eye out for:

  • Darkened/obscured windows; locked doors requiring a person to be buzzed into doors to rooms locked from the outside;
  • Different men coming and going; all-male clientele;
  • Multiple credit cards and/or excessive cash;
  • Odd or late business hours;
  • Individuals with fearful responses, or an inability to make little or no eye contact;
  • A person with a tattoo or other “branding”;
  • A person who is watched, accompanied, or followed;
  • Potential victims all of same nationality or ethnic group;
  • People with bruises, injuries, or presence of blood;
  • Individual(s) not in possession of ID documents, restricted from moving or communicating, and/or unsure of their location (i.e., state, city); or
  • Young people made to look significantly older.

Suspect Something?
Take these steps if you are suspicious:

  • Call 9–1–1. No concern is too small;
  • Do not confront or intervene with traffickers;
  • Establish partnerships with police in your area;
  • If you come in contact with a victim, indicate that you are not the police;
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888–373–7888 for referrals to services or to report a tip;
  • Contact a Regional Navigator, if your in Minnesota. Regional Navigators are the main points of contact in Minnesota for sexually exploited youth and concerned    agencies. Find your area’s Regional Navigator by visiting Minnesota Department of Health’s website;
  • Establish protocols at your school, hotel, or office to be ready to respond if needed.

More information can be found on The Advocates for Human Rights’ website, including in The Advocates’ Sex Trafficking and Safe Harbor Resource Pack.

 

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Where punk and the law meet: helping asylum seekers and immigrants

John Barham's involvement in the punk scene stems from the same roots that let him to practice socially productive law.
John Barham’s involvement in the punk scene stems from the same roots that led him to practice socially productive law.

John Barham wears no shoes in his office; he practices law in his socks. On a recent Wednesday evening, his socks were dark gray wool, soft-looking. Beneath his desk one foot occasionally rubbed the other, two cats playing. He said the areas of law he specializes in — criminal defense and immigration — are designed, it sometimes seems, to be especially confusing and pernicious, instruments that disempower as much as they protect. “It’s more like magic than anything else,” he said. “There’s all these tricks you need to know.” And so, as best he can, and often for no money, Barham helps protect his clients from (misapplications of) the law. When he is not working as an attorney he is volunteering as an attorney — for the Black Lives Matter movement, for The Advocates for Human Rights.

This week, in his volunteer work with The Advocates, Barham won asylum for a 13-year-old who fled to the U.S. alone to escape violence in Central America. And on Friday he and his punk band, Murrieta, will take part in a benefit he organized; proceeds will go to The Advocates’ Refuge and Immigrant Program.

Barham is in his late 30s, bald, bespectacled, friendly, and, at least at the end of the day, a touch tired. He speaks quickly and with the trace of a southern accent (politics becomes pawlitics.) The clutter of his office, at the intersection of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue, is a homey clutter. The law in this office is not so intimidating as in other law offices, not quite so infallible-seeming, not quite so buttoned-up. It follows that there are no buttons on Barham’s shirt. In addition to his socks, he does his lawyering in a T-shirt. It is red and bears the Sriracha hot sauce logo — a rooster — and covers his belly, just.

‘A music of resistance’
And then, in the evenings, when he is performing with Murrieta, Barham wears no shirt at all. Videos on YouTube show him plodding on stages in dark rooms, bare-chested, a microphone in hand. The music is guitar-heavy, drum-heavy, and loud — but it is also inviting. The music is loud because, in part, the music is a cry, a cri de coeur — it is political. Punk, says Barham, “is a music of resistance, a subversive music, analogous to hip-hop … the scene does well where there are lots of immigrants. It tends to flourish in places where immigrants are dealing with abuse or hostility. … Even just in the punk scene here [in Minneapolis] there are a lot of Latino immigrants, as well as immigrants from other parts of the world. And to a large extent that’s who we’re playing for.”

His involvement in the punk scene stems, Barham says, from the same roots that led him to practice socially productive law; in some respects when he is practicing law he is practicing punk, and vice versa; when playing punk, he is performing social outreach. (The group takes its name from Joaquin Murrieta, a sort of Latino-American Robin Hood, who during the gold rush looted rich and unscrupulous prospectors and then distributed the purloined funds among the poor.)

Barham grew up in South Carolina in the late ‘70s. Half his family was Vietnamese. This entailed violence. “Racism as an issue was very clear to me before I was in kindergarten,” he says. “My childhood was fist-fighting most of my neighborhood over them wanting to kill my cousins and brothers and sisters because of where they were from. That remained a troubling thing for really the rest of my life.” After graduating from college he spent more than a decade living in South America. In Argentina he spent two years as a social worker for a human rights group, providing aid to children who lived in train stations. In Chile, in addition to working as an English teacher and translator, he and his crew provided de-facto security to the country’s gay rights movement.

While in South America, he met the woman who would become his wife (and, later, his ex-wife). She had a son, and they decided to raise him in the States. Barham enrolled in law school in eastern Tennessee. “Law school was the worst part of my life, by far,” he says. “The racism and xenophobia faced by my ex-wife and son there were just tremendous. And it was the first environment I’d been in where greed was explicitly OK. We left the first day we could, and drove right here.”

Minnesota: a kind of oasis
Minnesota, he says, “and the Twin Cities in particular, is kind of an oasis in the United States in terms of tolerance and acceptance and diversity.” He notes the imperfections — “I feel like every time I pick up the newspaper or see the news there’s something new about a Somalian person being insulted or injured,” he said; he began volunteering for Black Lives Matter after several of their supporters were shot. But he maintains that, in his experience, it ranks among the most inclusive of American cities that he has lived in.

On Friday (Jan. 29) at The Hexagon Bar in Minneapolis, Murrieta will play a concert to raise funds for those in need of legal representation but who cannot afford it; proceeds from the show, which Barham organized and which features a multitude local punk, hip-hop, and reggae acts, will be donated to The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee & Immigrant Program — a program that offers free counsel to low-income immigrants and refugees who face persecution in their home countries. It can with justification be said that Murrieta will be carrying on the legacy of its namesake.

By: Max Ross, a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights.

“Where punk and the law meet: helping asylum seekers and immigrants” was published on MinnPost, January 28, 2016.

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Ban on mandatory life-without-parole applies to all who were sentenced when juveniles, Supreme Court rules

Handcuffed hands

The Supreme Court issued a decision today in a 6-3 opinion that states must retroactively apply the ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. The ruling comes from the case of 69-year-old Henry Montgomery, imprisoned since he was 17 for a crime he committed in 1963.

When Montgomery was sentenced at age 17, life without parole was automatic. Neither the court nor the jury was allowed to consider his age, maturity, potential for rehabilitation, or other characteristics in determining his sentence. As a result, he has spent his entire adult life in prison and has been ineligible for parole.

In his petition to the Court, Montgomery discussed “his evolution from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community.” According to the Court, he offers advice and serves as a role model to other inmates. He helped establish an inmate boxing team, serving as a trainer and coach.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that a juvenile convicted of a homicide offense must not be sentenced to life in prison without parole unless the court considers the juvenile’s special circumstances in light of the principles and purposes of juvenile sentencing. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether this ruling would apply to juvenile offenders like Montgomery, whose sentences were already final at the time of the 2012 decision.

Today, the Court ruled that this 2012 ruling applies not only to juvenile offenders whose cases were still pending in 2012, but to all juvenile offenders who had been automatically sentenced to life without parole. This includes Montgomery.

Similar to the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, international human rights standards prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. As such, those standards require that punishments be individualized and proportionate to the facts and circumstances of the offender and the offense. Today’s ruling brings juvenile sentencing practices in the United States into closer compliance with those international standards, requiring courts to conduct an individualized assessment of each juvenile offender in determining the appropriate sentence for the offender. As the Court recognized today, “Before Miller, every juvenile convicted of a homicide offense could be sentenced to life without parole. After Miller, it will be the rare juvenile offender who can receive that same sentence.”

Now, with Montgomery, states must ensure that juvenile homicide offenders are considered for parole. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority:

“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison. Perhaps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old boy. In light of what this Court has said . . . about how children are constitutionally different form adults in their level of culpability, however, prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their home for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.”

The UN Human Rights Committee has pressed the United States even further, urging it to fully comply with its international human rights obligations by entirely abolishing the sentence of life imprisonment without parole for juveniles. Today’s ruling is an important step in that direction.

By: Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program, leads The Advocates’ work against the death penalty. She sits on the steering committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty Steering Committee, an alliance of more than 150 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities, and unions from around the globe.

Read the complete opinion.

Featured

Women Suffer in Myanmar’s 60-Year Civil War

Ja Aung Lu
Ja Aung Lu

This week marks one year of mourning by the Kachin minority in Myanmar for two Kachin volunteer teachers with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC). On January 19, 2015, the bodies of Maran Lu Ra (20) and Tangbau Nan Tsin (21) were found dead at their house in the church compound located in Kongkha Village in Myanmar’s Northern Shan State. The young women had been brutally beaten, tortured, and raped. Since their deaths, no legal process, investigation, justice, remedies, protection, or rehabilitation processes have taken place for the victims, family members, and community.

The murders of Maran Lu Ra and Tangbu Nan Tsin are two among thousands of known and unknown cases―most, if not all, a result of the serious fighting that has waged in Northern Shan State since 2010 between the Kachin Independent Army and Myanmar Army.[i]

Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar (also known as Burma) is populated by eight major ethnic groups: Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Karen, Chin, Mon, Burma, Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan. Myanmar owns the “distinction” of being the only country in the world that has had an ongoing civil war for more than 60 years. The war is between the country’s army and ethnic freedom fighter groups.[i] The civil war has strengthened the military’s power, and it has allowed military dictators to rule the country. Thus, the brutal policies and lack of rule of law in Myanmar have jeopardized the peace and security of its citizens.

The army is known for using rape as a weapon of war against its ethnic people. Women suffer egregious human rights abuses. They are murdered, raped, sexually assaulted, forced into marriage, forced into labor, detained arbitrarily, and are victims of forced disappearances.[ii] Therefore, Myanmar has some of the most significant human rights violations in the world.

In 2010, there was a historic transition from a military dictator regime to a democratic government, also known as quasi-civilian government. The newly formed government is making some progress toward democratic reform in the central level and with international platforms. But, grave human rights violations have intensified in the northern part of Myanmar, particularly in Kachin and Northern Shan State, as well as in Rakhine State. The civil war has not stopped in ethnic areas. Apparently, the fighting resumed between the Kachin Independent Army and the Myanmar army in mid-2011 as a result of the failure of the last ceasefire agreement between them reached 17 years ago.

Myanmar became a member of the United Nations in 1948 and a signatory member state of six United Nations treaties and human rights instruments, namely Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1997, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography in 2012; and endorsed Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in 2014.[i] Furthermore, there are national mechanisms, including Myanmar National Committee for Women Affair in 1996, Myanmar Women’s Affair Federation in 2003, Myanmar National Human Rights Commission in 2010, and National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women – Action Plan for 2013-2021 in 2013.

However, there is no systematic reform initiative from the government to hold accountable the perpetrators who have had impunity for half a century regardless of Myanmar being a signatory member state of the United Nations and establishing human rights bodies.[ii]

Regarding the murders of Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Nan Tsin, hundreds of local and international human rights organizations have called for investigations and justice, including the U.S. embassy in Yangon, Myanmar.[iii] Hundreds of media agencies cover this news, and interfaith groups and local communities demonstrated solidarity to condemn the misconduct of Myanmar Army.[iv] The leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention submitted three letters requesting cooperation in the investigation, but there was barely a reply. The Kachin Baptist Convention established a 15-member investigation commission on February 7, 2015.[v] Despite this, there is still no cooperation from the government, including the country’s president, army, local law enforcement agencies, and government-backed women’s organizations and human rights bodies. As a result, sexual violence is widespread and the perpetrators “enjoy” absolute impunity from prosecution.[vi]

Therefore, 100 women and human rights organizations and civil society organizations and nine individuals, on January 19, 2016, issued the following demands:

  1. Sanction an official mandate and power of investigation to Kachin Baptist Convention for the purpose of revealing the truth of the fate of the two teachers;
  2. Request and invite the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission to conduct an investigation in order to find out the truth;
  3. Have the incoming NLD government promptly execute the two aforementioned points.

By: Ja Aung Lu, a Humphrey Law Fellow from Myanmar and has a professional affiliation with The Advocates for Human Rights throughout 2016. Ms. Lu is the Program Manager of Equality Myanmar. Her responsibilities in this role include program development, team and financial management, staff recruitment, facilitation of trainings and events, data collection, and policymaking. For her work on the successful Stop Myitsone Dam Campaign, Ms. Lu received the Kachin Hero of the Year award in 2007. She obtained her Bachelor of Laws from Myitkyina University. As a Humphrey Fellow, Ms. Lu hopes to update her knowledge of human rights and laws, develop network-building skills, and enhance her understanding of NGO best practices, to help contribute toward the development of a democratic society in Myanmar.

Footnotes:

[i] Ending sexual violence in conflict through the establishment of Women and Girl Centres in Myanmar. (2014, July 4). In UNFPA Myanmar . Retrieved from http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/myanmar/2014/07/04/10056/ending_sexual_violence_in_conflict_through_the_establishment_of_women_and_girl_centres_in_myanmar/

[ii] PRESIDENT THEIN SEIN MUST BE CHALLENGED FOR FAILURE TO SEEK JUSTICE IN KAWNG HKA RAPE-MURDER CASE. (2015, October 12). In Kachin Women’s Association Thailand . Retrieved from http://www.kachinwomen.com/kachinwomen/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=138:president-thein-sein-must-be-challenged-for-failure-to-seek-justice-in-kawng-hka-rape-murder-case&catid=48&Itemi

[iii] US calls for Myanmar to probe killings of 2 ethnic Kachin women. (2015, January 21). In Fox News. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/01/21/us-calls-for-myanmar-to-probe-killings-2-ethnic-kachin-women.html

[iv] Funerals for two Kachin women found dead in Myanmar. (2015, January 23). In BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30945695

[v] No evidence over Kachin teacher murders. (n.d.). In Eleven . Retrieved from http://www.elevenmyanmar.com/local/no-evidence-over-kachin-teacher-murders

[vi] Burma Bows its Head in Shame on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (2015, December 2). In Burma Partnership. Retrieved from http://www.burmapartnership.org/2015/12/burma-bows-its-head-in-shame-on-the-international-day-for-the-elimination-of-violence-against-women/

[i] Saw Ba U Gyi – Voice of Revolution. Paul Keenan 7–8 available at http://www.ibiblio.org/obl/docskaren/Karen%20Heritage%20Web/pdf/Voice%20of%20the%20Revolution_1_Saw%20Ba%20U%20Gyi.pdf

[ii] Country Summary – Burma. (2015, January). In Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/related_material/burma_7.pdf

[i] Weng, L., & Nom, N. S. (2015, January 21). Probe Ongoing, Autopsy Results Pending in Murder of Kachin Teachers. In The Irrawaddy . Retrieved from http://www.irrawaddy.com/burma/probe-ongoing-autopsy-results-pending-murder-kachin-teachers.html

 

 

Featured

Tell President Obama: #StopTheRaids

Infographic Central America

Over New Year’s weekend, the Department of Homeland Security began to conduct raids across the country to apprehend and deport Central American mothers and children who came to this country seeking protection from horrific violence.

These tactics are not in line with America’s values and risk sending children and their mothers back to extremely dangerous situations and they are causing panic and fear across immigrant communities. A letter signed by 146 Representatives was delivered on Tuesday to President Obama, hours before his final State of the Union.

Now you can send a message directly to President Obama letting him know that you oppose the Department of Homeland Security’s inhumane and aggressive enforcement tactics that target mothers and children seeking safety and protection.

Featured

Meet Sarah Brenes: She’s a Zealous Advocate

Sarah Brenes for Website

Her clients’ courage and perseverance serve as a touchstone for Sarah Brenes (right) in her work to secure safety for people escaping violence and persecution. Brenes was recently appointed director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program, filling the big shoes left by Deepinder Mayell when he left The Advocates to accept a position with the University of Minnesota Law School’s Center for New Americans.

What do you look forward to the most about being the director of the Refugee & Immigrant Program?
I look forward to continuing to work with our amazing team of staff, interns, and volunteers that support The Advocates’ work. We continue to explore opportunities to support asylum seekers nationwide, and I look forward to fusing more connections with partners across the country and within our midwest region.

What do you want to see accomplished?
With the help of dedicated volunteer attorneys and interpreters, we will continue our work of providing free legal services to low-income asylum seekers.

The Advocates has more than 30 years of experience serving asylum seekers. There are hundreds of former clients who have gone on to contribute to our communities and woven themselves into the rich fabric of our nation. I hope to call on them to provide insights and perspectives of their experiences to help inform our work and to share their thoughts with current clients just beginning the process.

I want to continue to expand our training and support opportunities, particularly for attorneys working as part of our service area in greater Minnesota, North Dakota,  and South Dakota. I would also like to deepen our connection with national partners as we continue to explore our ability to support asylum seekers nationwide.

What is the most rewarding part about working with refugees on their asylum cases?
I am humbled by the courage and perseverance of our clients. In order to make their way to the United States, most have to part with family, risk their lives, and travel with the hope that remains despite suffering abuse and torture. Seeing a client after a case is granted is akin to meeting a totally new person — a weight has been lifted and a new chapter is beginning for them.

What is your background with immigration law?
I am honored to have worked with non-profits, educational institutions, and private attorneys during my career in immigration law. I started, right out of college, as a summer paralegal with the Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, staffing a small office servicing migrant farm workers. I then went to work as a paralegal for Richard Breitman, a private immigration attorney who taught me what it means to be a zealous advocate.

I completed a masters program in human rights and peace education at the National University in Costa Rica. Frustrated by the barriers 9/11 brought to immigration law, I studied global migration and human rights issues. Then, I went to law school and clerked with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and Centro Legal, serving low-income clients. I also had the opportunity to participate in a number of projects at The Advocates for Human Rights.

I joined the University of St. Thomas Immigration Practice Group of the Legal Services Clinic, working alongside Professor Virgil Wiebe, who has the unique ability to help students see the importance of even the smallest detail in a case while, at the same time, appreciate how one client’s case fits in the broader fabric of our nation’s immigrant history.

When my fellowship ended, I joined The Advocates as a staff attorney. Together, we provide momentum to the human rights movement. I am constantly inspired by the volunteers who keep the movement propelling forward—one case, one issue at a time.

Tell us about your family.
My husband, Elvis, and I live in Minneapolis with our three children, Diego (9), Cecilia (6), and Santiago (18 months). Our children’s innocence, curiosity, and early exploration of rights and justice constantly keep me aware of the importance of our work and provide me with new perspectives. My family keeps me balanced  and supports me in efforts to secure protection for our clients and their own families.

Featured

#StopTheRaids

Raids deportation image

CALL the White House comment line at 866-473-5915 to tell President Obama to STOP THE RAIDS against Central American refugees!

Tell them that instead of deporting families seeking safety, the administration should see that they are provided adequate representation to seek asylum. The administration should also address the causes of the violence forcing so many individuals to flee. #StopTheRaids

December 31, 2015
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

The undersigned organizations write to express our opposition to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) reported plans to conduct raids in communities nationwide to round up and deport Central American children and their parents. If these plans are implemented, many families will be deprived of the right to seek protection from persecution. The vast majority of children and families that have been ordered removed by immigration judges were ordered removed in absentia. It is likely that most of these families failed to appear in court because they did not receive adequate information from DHS explaining their obligation to go to court or their right to receive a fair hearing on their asylum, Withholding of Removal, and related claims. Moreover, raids would convey the message that these families are a threat to border security, when the reality is that most are asylum seekers in need of humanitarian protection. Given their high rate of eligibility for asylum-related claims, these children and their parents should be treated as an exceptionally vulnerable population and should not be removed without an opportunity to seek relief before a judge.

We urge you to renounce the use of such harsh tactics against this incredibly vulnerable group that has already suffered horrible, uncontrolled gang violence, domestic violence, and other forms of persecution. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data shows that 88 percent of the mothers and children detained in the three family detention centers in Pennsylvania and Texas are proving to the government they are likely to be found eligible for asylum and other forms of humanitarian relief. This data is consistent with an October 2015, UNHCR report finding that 82 percent of women and girls that the U.S. government interviewed in fiscal year 2015 from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico in the expedited removal context proved they have a significant possibility of winning asylum or protection under the Convention against Torture. The women and girls not placed into expedited removal, and who were released at the border,are fleeing similar situations, yet most were not provided with information about accessing asylum or other humanitarian protection in the U.S.

Despite this growing, and now, overwhelming, evidence that many Central American families deserve protection, DHS has pursued an aggressive enforcement strategy against them. The agency has escalated the use of family detention, placing thousands of children and mothers in massive, remote facilities. DHS and the immigration courts subject families to rapid deportation procedures that deprive them of fundamental due process. The agency’s aggressive approach has continued even after two federal courts ruled against these practices (see Flores v. Johnson and R.I.L.R. v. Johnson). Under the guidelines promulgated by Secretary Johnson last November, individuals “who qualify for asylum or other forms of relief” should not be prioritized for removal at all. Almost all of the families at issue put themselves into proceedings by turning themselves in to the authorities at the border after harrowing journeys of thousands of miles.

DHS has failed to provide adequate information to families about their rights and responsibilities in the immigration system. DHS has also failed to offer community-based services to facilitate appearances at court. Finally, the government has not provided appointed counsel to families who would otherwise go without representation. In fact, most of these families have no legal representation—the single most important factor in ensuring their appearance in court. Each of these steps would increase court appearance rates without resorting to the kind of tactics that will demonize a population in need of care and assistance.

The United States has always been a beacon of hope for asylum seekers. Over the past several months, you have championed the cause of protecting Syrian refugees when many questioned whether our nation should still be providing them refuge. We ask you to send that same signal now with respect to the families fleeing Central America and to be the same kind of champion for their protection.

Sincerely,

9to5, National Association of Working Women
The Advocates for Human Rights
African Awareness Association
Agora, St. Paul, MN
Alianza Americas
Alianza de Organizaciones Guatenaltecas ADOGUAH
Alliance For Global Justice
Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina
Alliance San Diego
America’s Voice
American Civil Liberties Union
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Immigration Council
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
Americans for Immigrant Justice
ARISE
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)
Austin Jewish Voice for Peace

Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture
Berkeley Palma Siruani Sister City Association
Border Action Network
Border Network for Human Rights

Campaign for Community Change and Fair Immigration Reform Movement
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition
CARECEN DC
CARECEN Los Angeles
Casa de Esperanza
Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Center for Women Policy Studies
Centro Savila
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee and Immigration Ministries
Church of the Brethren
Church World Service
Coalition de Detechos Humanos
Cobb Immigrant Alliance
Cocies
Colectiva Legal del Pueblo
Colibri Center for Human Rights
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Conversations With Friends – Minnesota’s program visiting people detained by ICE
Crisis Intervention Services

Dolores Street Community Services
DomesticSexual Assualt Outreach Center
Dominican Development Center, Inc
Durango Unido en Chicago

El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos
El Centro Hispano

FaithAction International House
Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement
Farmworker Justice
Fighting for Equal Education
First Focus
Florida Coastal School of Law Clinical Programs
Focus on Humanity
Friends of Broward Detainees
Friendship Office of the Americas
Frontera de Cristo
Futures Without Violence

Georgia Detention Watch
Grassroots Leadership

HIAS
Hispanic Health Network
Human Rights First
Human Rights Observation/Honduras
Humane Borders

Ignatian Solidarity Network
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Immigrant Justice Corps
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigration Taskforce, Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project
International Rescue Committee
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
IowaCASA
ISAIAH

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Community Action
Just Foreign Policy
Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska
Justice Strategies

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Kino Border Initiative

La Hermandad Hank Lacayo Youth & Family Center
La Union del Pueblo Entero
La Voz de los de Abajo Chicago
Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF)
Latin American Coalition
Latin American Youth Center/Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers
Latino Commission on AIDS
Latinos in the Deep South
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens
Legal Momentum
Legal Services for Children
Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
MIRA Coalitions

National Center for Lesbian Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Guestworker Alliance
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Law Center
National Justice for Our Neighbors
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
National Organization for Women
Navigate MN
The Needham Area Immigration Justice Task Force
New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice
NYU Center for Health and Human Rights
Nicaragua Center For Community Action
Nicaragua Network
Nisaa African Family Services
Not 1 More Coalition GA

OneAmerica
Orange County Immigrant Youth United

Pax Christi USA
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Primera Iglesia Bautista
Hispana de Savannah, INC.
Public Counsel

Red Mexicana de Lideres y Organizaciones Migrantes
Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)
Rights Action
Rochester Committee on Latin America (ROCLA)

Safe Passage Project
Salvadoran American National Network (SANN)
San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium
San Francisco School of the Americas Watch
San Solano Missions
Sanctuary for Families
Savannah Latina
Save the Children
SF Bay Area Guatemalan Committee
Sisters of Mercy, Institute Justice Team
Sojourners
Southeast Asian Coalition
Southern Border Communities Coalition
St. Cyril of Alexandria Parish
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Stop The Checkpoints
SustainUS

Task Force on the Americas
Teatro de la Séptima Generación/Seventh Generation Theatre
Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
TODEC LEGAL CENTER
Transformative Healing

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United We Dream
UU College of Social Justice

Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights
We Belong Together
Women’s Refugee Commission

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights at the University of Chicago

6 Reasons I’m Hopeful for 2016

Featured6 Reasons I’m Hopeful for 2016

As I reflect on 2015, I’m surprised at the optimism I feel.

After all, things aren’t exactly great out there: at least 979 people have been shot dead by police in the United States this year; 1 in 3 women worldwide still experience physical or sexual violence; and an estimated 60 million men, women, and children have been forcibly displaced from their homes by violence or persecution.

So why am I hopeful? Here’s my list, in no particular order

No. 1: Women are safer

Violence against women remains a global human rights crisis, but The Advocates for Human Rights is making a difference. We are changing legal systems around the world. In 2015 new laws to protect women in Croatia and Mongolia went into effect which hold perpetrators of domestic violence accountable and which help ensure that women enjoy their fundamental right to safety and security of the person. In Minnesota, new services for child victims of trafficking have been implemented and thousands of community leaders, service providers, law enforcement professionals and others have been trained on how to access Minnesota’s new Safe Harbor protections.

No. 2: Asylum seekers are protected

2015 witnessed the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. With 60 million people displaced from their homes due to conflict, 20 million fleeing their homelands in fear of persecution, and more than 2 million asylum seekers worldwide, the news has been filled with the stories of courage and despair, welcome and hatred. The Advocates for Human Rights has stepped in to meet the needs of asylum seekers in the United States. Hundreds of volunteers stepped forward this year to represent asylum seekers from around the world and to help the hundreds of unaccompanied children and mothers with children fleeing violence in Central America who, as a top priority for deportation, have their own docket at the immigration court. And with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers, The Advocates launched the National Asylum Help Line to connect women being released from the family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania with legal help in their new communities.

No. 3:  Human rights defenders around the world have access to important tools

Launched in 2015, The Advocates’ Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-By-Step Guide to Human Rights Fact-Finding, Documentation, and Advocacy provides human rights defenders with the information and technical assistance they need to bring human rights violations to light, hold perpetrators accountable, and create lasting systematic change. In 2015, The Advocates has worked with diaspora communities to bring attention to abuses in their countries of origin, with LGBTI activists to advocate for protections within their countries as well as with regional and international human rights mechanisms at the UN and African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, and with colleagues at the Detention Watch Network to ensure human rights violations against migrants in the United States do not go unchallenged.

No. 4: The use of the death penalty is diminishing around the world

2015 saw the lowest number of executions in the United States – down 33% over 2014 and the lowest number since the early 1970s according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five countries – Mongolia, Fiji, Suriname, Madagascar, and the Republic of Congo – abolished the death penalty this year. Through partnerships with abolitionist activists and leadership in the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, The Advocates continues to challenge the death penalty worldwide.

No. 5: Children are learning, not working

Just weeks after The Advocates’ staff returned from visiting the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal, the region was struck by a devastating earthquake. Families and teachers lost their homes, students lost their books and uniforms. The SPCS community came together and by the end of May the kids had returned to school. Today they remain in school and free from child labor.

If you need to see joy in action just watch a few minutes of dancing kids from the SPCS.

No. 6: Human rights defenders are active here at home

From the immigration attorneys who travelled to the family detention centers in Texas to help thousands of imprisoned asylum seeking moms and their kids have access to counsel to counsel, to workers like The Advocates’ 2016 Special Recognition award recipient CTUL documenting human rights abuses in the workplace, to the countless #BlackLivesMatter activists demanding accountability for violations of the fundamental right to safety and security, the human rights movement in the United States is getting stronger and more vibrant. Together, as advocates for human rights, we can make a difference and create a world in which all can live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

And really, it’s that last one that gives me the most hope. Because of you – the many advocates for human rights who volunteer, donate, and act to build a better world – we know that we can meet what 2016 holds in store.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deputy Director and Director of Advocacy & Research

Featured

Stand Up, Speak Out When It Comes to Hate Speech

MLK

It has been a week since the Star Tribune published my colleague Deepinder Mayell’s op-ed about his experience with hate speech at a Vikings game. The article prompted many people to come forward in support of Deepinder, in support of refugees, and in support of human rights. They told their stories and discussed how unsettling the current political climate is.

The violent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have increased fear, and political campaigns have escalated the use of negative rhetoric. As a result, what happened to Deepinder is not unique. Many people are seeing similar situations of hate speech and confrontation play out in their everyday lives.

While many have expressed a commitment not to stand by when another person is targeted with hate speech, we are left to ask what that really means. Most of us learned about bullies when we were in school. (For more information, take a look at The Advocates for Human Rights newsletter on bullying and human rights.) However, we don’t expect to encounter bullies as adults.

In the book, The Green dot etc. Violence Prevention Strategy, Dr. Dorothy J. Edwards presents approaches bystanders can use when they find themselves in situations of conflict involving a power imbalance:

Distract. Create a distraction to de-escalate the situation. This response can be as simple as calling out the person’s name and asking a question or creating a more dramatic distraction like singing or dancing to get attention.

Direct. Engage the perpetrator directly by calling out his/her bad behavior, or remove the person being targeted from the situation.

Delegate. Call in another party, the police, security, or other authority.

This isn’t as easy as it may sound. It’s uncomfortable to put oneself on the firing line of hate, and it’s certainly tempting- at least for those of us with privilege to do so ― to keep walking, keep quiet, or look away. Being a human rights defender takes courage and commitment, even in the small doses called for in these situations.

There are other ways to be pro-active and engage in creating a healthier community:

1. Get to know your neighbors and diverse members of the broader community.

2. Learn about the diverse cultures and experiences of refugees and immigrants.

3. Speak up! Nervous laughter in the face of racist jokes is as emboldening as genuine laughter.

4. Be careful with your own speech. Humor doesn’t always translate well. It can be hurtful.

5. Check in with the person who is targeted. A friendly comment can make a big difference.

6. Communicate with your elected officials about important human rights issues.

There is no need to stand by and feel helpless. We can all be part of the solution. In big and small ways, we all need to advocate for human rights.

By: Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights

Featured

One step forward, two steps back characterizes the “protection” of women in Ethiopia

Mekdes Fisseha Libasie

Sixteen-year-old Hanna Lalango was kidnapped as she was returning home from school on October 1, 2014. Her kidnappers gang raped her for several days before throwing her out on a street where, later, she was found unconscious. Hanna’s parents sought the best medical care they could afford to save her life. Unfortunately, she passed away on November 1, 2014. The Federal High Court of Ethiopia sentenced each of the suspects 17 years to life imprisonment.

In another case, Bemnet Geremew, a 28-year old lawyer from Addis Ababa, was strangled and beaten to death by her husband on the night of June 27, 2015. The two had been married for only two months. A few days after committing the crime, the husband handed in himself to the police. The case is still in the courts.

These two are among many high profile cases of violence against women that have prompted a social media outcry and significant activism. Unfortunately, the majority of violence against women crimes are either unreported to the police or receive insufficient attention from police or courts.

Violence against women is widespread in Ethiopia. A World Health Organization study found that almost 71 percent of Ethiopian women reported being subjected to physical/sexual violence by their intimate partners.[1]

A decade ago, Ethiopia underwent extensive legal reform in an attempt to harmonize its laws with its constitution. Accordingly, the 2005 Criminal Code of Ethiopia defines and carries stringent punishment for acts of violence against women. Book Five, Title I, Chapter 2 of this code includes list of punishable acts of violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation and trafficking women. The revised federal and regional family laws have also brought provisions that better protect the rights of women in marriage.

Ethiopia has also ratified numerous international and regional conventions that proscribe acts and practices of violence against women, such as the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and is a signatory to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). The country has subscribed to a multitude of relevant international and regional consensus documents.

Despite these efforts in legal reform, acts of violence against women seem to be on the rise in Ethiopia. Proliferation of electronic or social media has helped expose some of these crimes that would otherwise be unreported. Every year thousands of young women are trafficked and subjected to labor and sexual exploitation. There is almost a total lack of state accountability when these crimes are committed. For instance, in September 2015 a 20-year-old university student was shot in cold blood and killed by an armed member of the federal police for simply failing to greet him as she walked by. No official apology was offered to her families and the public. The progress of the case is not yet announced.

The momentum of advocacy for legal reform and implementation that was being initiated and carried out by civil society organizations and the non-profit sector a decade ago has stagnated in recent years. Since the year 2010, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of non-governmental organizations working directly on women’s human rights. This phenomenon is primarily due to the civil society law that was issued in 2009 requiring all non-profit organizations to re-register as new organizations. Accordingly, charities and organizations are classified as under Ethiopian, Ethiopian-resident, and foreign. Ethiopian charities are those which source only up to 10 percent of their funds from foreign sources. In accordance to the proclamation, only these Ethiopian charities can engage in activities relating to “the advancement of human and democratic rights” and “the promotion of equality of …gender and religion.” Many organizations primarily funded by foreign sources failed to re-register foreseeing that they would not be able to bear financial burdens by using local sources. Those which have continued their human rights work are severely incapacitated as a result of financial constraints. It is extremely difficult to generate funds locally to fulfill the goals of these organizations. This law has also prevented the creation of potential human rights organizations that would work to protect women’s human rights. “One step ahead two steps back” can describe the momentum of women’s human rights in Ethiopia.

Regarding rights relating to violence against women, a state has duty to respect, protect, and fulfill. In this context, the Ethiopian state not only needs to respect and protect women’s rights, but it should also fulfill these rights. It also has an additional layer of obligation to create conducive atmosphere for local and international co-operation in the implementation of rights.

The causes of violence against women in Ethiopia emanate from deep-rooted discriminatory culture against women. It requires multi-sectoral efforts such as education, advocacy, and appropriate law enforcement. The state cannot do all these by itself. Therefore, it must amend restrictive laws, such as civil society law, to engage other actors to promote and protect women’s human rights. In lieu of that, the state tampers with the rights of women to be protected from acts and practices of violence.

[1] See WHO publication http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/ accessed on 11 November 2015

By: Attorney Mekdes Fisseha Libasie is an intern with The Advocates for Human Rights’ Women’s Human Rights Program. She has taught and practiced law in Ethiopia. Mekdes obtained her law degree from Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. She also has LL.M degree in Public International Law from University of Oslo, Norway. Currently, she is finalizing a research degree at the University of Surrey, UK.

Featured

Activities for Human Rights Day 2015

hrd_english

Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.  

The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.

This year’s Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.

The “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” 50th anniversary campaign will highlight the theme of rights and freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago.

Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

For more ideas, check out my past Human Rights Day posts:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2011)

10 More Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2012)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2013)

Human Rights Activities For You & Your Kids (2014).

The UDHR in a word cloud. From Article 26 website.
The UDHR in a word cloud. From Article 26 website.

1. Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Download an illustrated version of the UDHR on the UN website here. You can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here.

2. Join the UNICEF Kid Power Team and work together to help end global malnutrition.Globally, one in four children is malnourished, about 159 million children worldwide. 50 million children suffer from acute malnutrition resulting in about one million children dying each year. And 16 million children suffer from the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which can require specialized feeding care such as treatment with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) packets.


Families can join the UNICEF Kid Power Team by purchasing a UNICEF Kid Power Band—available at Target—and downloading the free companion UNICEF Kid Power App. Kids go on missions to learn about new cultures and earn points by getting active. Points unlock funding from partners, parents and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to real, severely malnourished children around the world. In the pilot project earlier this year, more than 11,300 kids in Boston, Dallas and New York joined the UNICEF Kid Power Team and took enough steps to walk around the world more than 23 times. These kids earned enough Kid Power Points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets, enough to save the lives of 1,259 children. 

3. Stand up for the rights of girls everywhere. Girl UP, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, engages girls to take action. Girl UP’s current advocacy priority is improving access to quality education for girls worldwide, especially those in vulnerable settings. Worldwide, 140 million children are not in school – more than half are girls. Learn more about the impact of education of girls on society here.  Learn about ways you can advocate (no matter your age) here.

4. Sing your own song! Amandla! is a song that was a sung by Black South Africans during apartheid to give them strength. Amandla is a Zulu and Xhosa word meaning “power”. It was also the name of a documentary about the role of music in apartheid South Africa that won multiple awards at Sundance in 2003.  The chorus is:

We will fight for the right to be free
We will build our own society
And we will sing, we will sing
We will sing our own song

The band UB40, which strongly advocated against apartheid in the 1980s, did a popular cover of the song Amandla!

Amnesty International created a full lesson plan around the song.  Check out the full lesson, which encourages kids to sing along with the song.  Take out specific words and have your kids fill in the blanks.  Kids have such a great sense of justice that their words may surprise you! Then have your kids draw the images that the song evokes and present their art projects to others.

(Fun fact: Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games, was named for the word and its meaning.) 

5. Play Rights of the Child Pictionary. Based on the game Pictionary, each child sketches his or her interpretation of one article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When all are done, you can take turns examining the sketch and guessing the article it represents. For this and other ideas for teaching children’s rights through art, click here.

6. Play Human Rights Musical Chairs.  This lesson, developed by The Advocates for Human Rights, is a game similar to musical chairs, but with a writing twist. Select magazine and newspaper images that you feel effectively demonstrate a particular article of one of the 30 articles of the UDHR. For example, if the picture shows a scene where a group of children, boys and girls, are happy and walking with backpacks on their way to school, you could discuss Article 26 the “Right to Education” and Article 2 “Freedom from Discrimination” as both girls and boys are attending school.

Tape one image onto each chair along with one sheet of paper. Select music to indicate the starting and stopping of the writing. Tell the kids that they can write about whatever the image makes them think of. When the music starts, have the kids write the beginning of the story based on the image.  After a few minutes, stop the music and have them move to the next image. Start the music and have them write the middle of the story based on that image.  Encourage them to follow the storyline already in progress but allow them to get creative. Stop the music and have them move to the third image and write the ending. For more ideas, check out The Advocates for Human Rights’ resources for educators.

7. Learn more about famous and not-so-famous human rights heroes. There are many great biographies of famous activists (I Am Malala is one you may enjoy) but there are also many other inspiring peace and social justice activists to learn about.

Better World Heroes is an informational website which includes the biographies of 1000 heroes who have fought to build a better world.

The Giraffe Heroes project tells the stories of “Giraffe Heroes” – people who stick their necks out for the common good.

For more resources, download The Advocates for Human Rights’ Rights Sites newsletter: Human Rights Heroes edition.

8. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches as part of an anti-racism, anti-bullying activity. Teaching Tolerance has developed a great simulation activity.  The simulation exercise can help children understand the emotional impact of unfair practices. The follow-up activity on discrimination helps ensure that students understand that the goal is to change those practices, not the characteristics that make us different from one another. Check out all of Teaching Tolerance’s resources here.

9. Take a test together.  The Representation Project has developed two quizzes to examine how mainstream media shapes our beliefs and practices about women and girls, as well as what it means to be a man.  For families with preteens and teens who are interested starting a conversation about this issue, the Representation Project’s family resources can be found here.

#TheRepTest is a media literacy tool, sparking conversation about overall representation in film, television, and video games and encouraging more diversity in the entertainment industry.

The #BeyondTheMask quiz lets you grade male characters as role models.

10. Have a conversation with your family about what it means to be “free and equal”.  Watch this video with your kids and discuss their reactions.

What else does it mean to be “free and equal”? the United Nations recently launched a new campaign called “Free & Equal” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.  There are fact sheets, information about a film series, and much more on the Free & Equal website.  You can even check out the very first Bollywood video for gay rights.  The UN is asking that you share if you believe everyone should be welcomed into their family’s hearts, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The 2015 “Faces” video from the Free & Equal campaign celebrates the contributions that millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people make to families and local communities around the world. The cast features “real people” (not actors), filmed in their workplaces and homes — among them, a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Can you see past the label?

If you are not sure how to talk to your kids about LGBT issues, check out these Human Rights Campaign resources that provide the language and information needed to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and issues in an age appropriate way with children and youth.

I hope you and your families have a great Human Rights Day 2015!  If you have other ideas for human rights activities, please share them with us!

Jennifer Prestholdt is Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. This post was originally published on World Moms Blog. 

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My run-in with hate speech at a Minnesota Vikings game

mayell

 

 

The following opinion editorial written by The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program Director Deepinder Mayell was published in the December 9 Star Tribune.

 

 

It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game. I am not new to football, though. As an undergrad at Boston College, I went to many Eagles games, and I played junior varsity football. I knew what to expect on the field. I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium.

What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.

I was stunned. He didn’t know anything about me. We were complete strangers. But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.

He didn’t know that I have lived in Minnesota for the past four years, that I was born and raised in New York and that the words “Never Forget” may mean more to me than to him. He didn’t know that when I went home and my children jumped on top of me and asked “How was the game?” that I’d be holding back tears as I told them about racism instead of touchdowns. He didn’t know that I am an attorney and the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights.

It was also abundantly clear that he didn’t know about refugees, dignity or freedom. He didn’t know that if he were speaking to a refugee, he’d be speaking to someone who feared persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. He didn’t know that many refugees are victims of some of the worst human-rights abuses occurring on the planet, ranging from being sold into sexual slavery to being killed in mass executions. He didn’t know that being a refugee is a badge of resilience and honor, not danger.

In that moment, I was terrified. But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.

The man eventually moved on. I found security staff, and with a guard and friend at my side, I confronted the man on the concessions level. I told him that what he said was racist and that what he did scared me. I told him that I was afraid to return to my seat and that I was afraid that people were going to hurt me. I told him that what he did makes me afraid for my children.

Somewhere during that second confrontation there was a change. Maybe some humanity crept inside him. Maybe he felt the presence of the security guard. While he said he was sorry, his apology was uttered in an adolescent way that demonstrated that he felt entitled to reconciliation as much as he felt entitled to hurl hatred. He wanted to move on and enjoy the game. I told him that I didn’t want his apology. Rather, I wanted him ejected from the stadium because he made me feel unsafe.

The security staff talked with him privately. I don’t know what was said. He was not removed. Apparently, the Vikings do not think that hate speech and racism are removable offenses. My gameday experience was ruined. I tried to focus on the players, but I continued to take glances at the man who sat just a few yards away. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering if he had inspired someone else. It was clear that I would not be bringing my family to a Vikings game.

I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning for us all. It is like smoke. Imagine your office, church or stadium filling with smoke, while everyone acted like nothing was wrong. That smoke eventually becomes an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world to commit horrendous crimes, the type of fire that can bring down the entire building. As President Obama stated in his address from the Oval Office on Sunday evening: “[I]t is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It is up to us all, from individual bystanders to institutions as big as the Vikings, to respond to and to stop the spread of racism and hate.

 Deepinder Mayell is an attorney and director of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.

 

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Adopting domestic violence laws isn’t enough

16 Days
At the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council, held October 1, 2015, The Advocates for Human Rights delivered the following statement on its model for using legal reform to protect women from domestic violence. Below is video of The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. William Lohman delivering the statement at the United Nations in Geneva.
#16Days #16DaysCampaign

“The Advocates for Human Rights welcomes the High Commissioner’s summary report under item 2 and supports a focus on technical assistance and capacity-building options for integrating human rights into national policies.

“As discussed at the panel during the 28th session pursuant to resolution 27/26, successful mainstreaming of human rights depends on, among other things, good laws and the enforcement of those laws. To create a good law, states must understand the best practices that need to be included. At The Advocates for Human Rights, we see this daily in our work with global partners to monitor laws on violence against women and drive change.

“Laws set the foundation for victim safety and offender accountability, and evaluation and monitoring are critical to ensuring that the laws as written incorporate best practices, that they are properly implemented, and that the laws do not result in unintended harms.

“In our evaluations, we check whether a law contains important elements that focus on victim safety and offender accountability, including good remedies, such as issuing and enforcing restraining orders, and a recognition that domestic violence is a crime against the state, not just against the individual, and that these crimes must be publicly prosecuted.

“From our work on domestic violence, we see firsthand that adopting a law is not enough – laws cannot protect victims or hold offenders accountable if they are not implemented or monitored to determine whether there are unanticipated harmful results. In Nepal, for example, the Domestic Violence Act emphasizes reconciliation of victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.  Focusing on reconciliation, however, is a practice that actually is harmful to victims and allows perpetrators to act with impunity.

“The Advocates for Human Rights encourages members of the Human Rights Council to urge member states to work with civil society and incorporate best practices into their laws. We urge member states to regularly monitor the implementation of their own laws to successfully mainstream human rights, in particular a woman’s right to be free from violence.

“Thank you.”

 

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Gender-based violence escalating because of conflict in Eastern Ukraine

16 Days

The Advocates for Human Rights delivered a statement on gender-based violence in Ukraine to the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council on September 29, 2015. Below is the statement’s transcript, as well as video of The Advocates’ staff attorney Theresa Dykoschak delivering the statement at the UN. #16Days #16DaysCampaign

“Mr./Madam President/Vice President,

“The Advocates for Human Rights is gravely concerned about reports of escalating gender-based violence resulting from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

“As the UN Economic and Social Council has observed, “the militarization process, including the ready availability of small weapons, that occurs prior to and during conflicts, as well as the process of demobilization of often frustrated and aggressive soldiers after a conflict, may . . . result in increased violence against women and girls.” Such is the case in Ukraine today.

“First, we are concerned that internally displaced persons in Ukraine, most of whom are women, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. In some cases, the armed separatist forces take women hostage and repeatedly rape them. In other cases, women are abducted or arrested and threatened with sexual violence. Our partner organization, the Ukraine-based Women’s Information Consultative Center, has documented cases of sexual violence in the occupied territories of Ukraine, along with extrajudicial executions and torture.

“The most recent report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine confirms reports of sexual violence in the territories controlled by the armed groups. This most recent report also confirms that “[s]ervices for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are not available in the areas controlled by the armed groups and are insufficient in the Government-controlled areas.”

“Second, we have received reports of an alarming increase in domestic violence perpetrated by soldiers who have returned from the conflict. Calls to the nationwide Ukrainian hotline for victims of domestic and gender-based violence have spiked in 2015. The United Nations Population Fund confirms that even though gender-based violence is significantly under-reported in Ukraine, the country is seeing an increase in reports of domestic violence compared with 2014.

“The Advocates for Human Rights calls on UN member states to expand support and services for victims of gender-based violence in Ukraine. We further call on the Ukrainian Government and the armed groups operating in the country to condemn all acts of gender-based violence, to ensure that all perpetrators of gender-based violence are held accountable, and to ensure that all victims of gender-based violence have access to appropriate services and support.

“Thank you.”

 

 

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Anti-LGBTI Discrimination Harms Efforts to Fight HIV/AIDS

AIDS worlds AIDS Day

 

I went to Mwananyamala Hospital (a government facility) for
HIV testing. During the pre-counseling, I came out as gay to
the health staff (counselor) and immediately he condemned
me saying that it was my fault to catch the virus because of
my behavior of practicing anal sex. The counselor used abusive
words and told me that I have to suffer both punishments
being HIV positive and also going to hell because of my sins.
That made me leave the Centre without testing. I developed a
negative attitude and decided not to go for HIV anymore until
my friend from a LGBT advocacy organization helped me go to
user friendly Centre [private] and was tested positive. I am now
on treatment.”
― 27-year old gay man interviewed in
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Through The Advocates for Human Rights’ work promoting LGBTI rights around the world, we routinely hear stories like this of the struggle to access health care and health information.  On World Aids Day (December 1), it is particularly important that we draw attention to the fact that anti-LGBTI discrimination harms efforts to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Tanzania, where The Advocates has partnered recently with LGBTI human rights organizations, provides a good example of the problem. Due to widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT individuals in Tanzania fear disclosing their sexual orientation to health care providers.  Further, health care providers often refuse needed services to LGBT individuals. In its Third National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (NMSF III), the Government of Tanzania recognized the barrier that anti-LGBT discrimination can pose to health care access: “Stigma and discrimination against MSM [men who have sex with men] remains high, posing a significant challenge to outreach and delivery of friendly health services.”[1] Indeed, some non-governmental organizations estimate that over 2 million LGBT Tanzanians lack access to quality health services.

Anti-LGBT discrimination in the health sector includes denial of services, verbal harassment and abuse, and violations of confidentiality.[2] In particular, health care providers deny treatment to openly LGBT individuals seeking treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.[3] Hostility from health care providers drives gay men outside of the health care system, depriving them of both services and information.[4]

In response to this discrimination, many LGBT Tanzanians choose to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity from their health care providers.[5] . Such nondisclosure, however, may prevent health care providers from addressing needs specific to LGBT patients. For example, a recent study assessing HIV and STIs among gay men in Tanzania found that they often do not disclose their sexual orientation to health care providers, hindering detection of rectal STIs.[6]

Tanzania’s legal system imposes some of the harshest penalties on homosexual conduct in all of Africa. Homosexual conduct has been illegal on mainland Tanzania since the implementation of the Tanzanian Penal Code in 1945.[7] Homosexual conduct has been illegal under the Zanzibar Penal Code since 1934.[8]

As a result, LGBT individuals decline to seek health care due to fear of revealing criminal conduct to health care providers.[9] Similarly, health care providers cite the criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct as a basis for denying services to LGBT people.[10] Moreover, criminalization perpetuates stigma, and stigmatization prevents lawmakers from addressing LGBT-specific health needs.[11]

In addition to obstructing health care access generally, anti-LGBT discrimination undermines efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. NMSF III recognizes men who have sex with men (MSM) as a population “at high risk for exposure to HIV or for transmitting HIV.”[12]  In fact, multiple sources recognize that the rate of HIV/AIDS among MSM is higher than that of the general population of Tanzania.[13]

Criminalization of same-sex conduct in Tanzania hurts all Tanzanians, because it hinders efforts to fight the harm that HIV/AIDS inflicts on all populations. Criminalization encumbers HIV/AIDS-related public health campaigns and research.[14] The International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association recognizes that anti-LGBT discrimination drives LGBT people “underground,” impeding implementation of effective HIV/AIDS-related education program.[15] Criminalization also harms outreach efforts by NGOs that do not wish to violate Tanzanian laws.[16] Around the world, countries that criminalize same-sex conduct demonstrate higher rates of HIV among gay men than those that do not criminalize such conduct.[17]

A gay man from Mwanza stated:

I was very sick and some of my friends advised me to have an HIV test. I went to the nearest Centre where almost everyone knew me. A queue of people were pushing me away because they never wanted me near them. An officer came out and told me to find another place to go, because I was not welcome in that hospital because of my behavior. I had no choice but to leave the Centre ashamed and I planned to commit suicide. My friend learned about my plan before I poisoned myself and called [name withheld] who helped me go through that moment, he also referred me to a user friendly facility.[18]

Even the Tanzanian Government acknowledges that criminalization of same-sex conduct complicates Tanzania’s response to HIV/AIDS: “Given the criminalization of consensual adult homosexual intercourse, the multi-sectoral national response requires significant cooperation from all key stakeholders to ensure that MSM are reached with HIV and AIDS services.”[19]

Unfortunately, the Tanzanian Government has yet to take concrete action to amend the National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS to establish that reducing the transmission of HIV among gay men is a central part of the national AIDS strategy and develop an implementation strategy to meet this objective.

On World AIDS Day, The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon all governments to ensure access to health care and health information for all LGBT individuals by:

  • Requiring all public health care workers to receive comprehensive diversity training, including training on sexual orientation, gender identity, and the rights of LGBT people.
  • Establishing and identifying LGBT-friendly health care facilities where LGBT people will feel free and comfortable to access services.
  • Advancing national Standards of Practice for providing health care to LGBT individuals. These standards should:
    • Prohibit discrimination in the delivery of services to LGBT clients and their families.
    • Require visible posting of non-discrimination policies and inclusion of policies in organizational brochures and informational and promotional materials.
    • Establish comprehensive and easily accessible procedures for clients to file and resolve complaints alleging violations of these policies.
    • Designate of one or more persons within each health care provider to ensure compliance with the Standard of Care.
    • Require all reception, intake, and assessment staff to be familiar with providers within the health care organization with expertise in and sensitivity to LGBT issues, and appropriately convey this information to patients.
    • Provide comprehensive ongoing training for direct care staff to identify and address basic health issues within their field of expertise that may particularly affect LGBT clients.
    • Develop a comprehensive resource list for appropriate referrals for special gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender health concerns.
    • Develop written confidentiality policies which explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity, indicating that such information is to be considered highly sensitive and treated accordingly.[20]
  • Developing a public outreach and education campaign directed toward the LGBT community that educates LGBT Tanzanians on proper HIV/AIDS prevention and identifies LGBT-friendly health care resources.[21]

Jennifer Prestholdt is the Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights.

[1] United Republic of Tanzania, Prime Minister’s Office, Tanzania Third National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (2013/14-2017/18) (November 2013).

[2] Human Rights Watch, “Treat Us Like Human Beings”: Discrimination against Sex Workers, Sexual and Gender Minorities, and People Who Use Drugs In Tanzania (2013).

[3] Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Tanzania: Treatment of sexual minorities by society and government authorities; recourse and protection available to those who have been subject to ill treatment (2007-July 2014), 8 August 2014, TZA104923.E; Human Rights Watch, “Treat Us Like Human Beings”: Discrimination against Sex Workers, Sexual and Gender Minorities, and People Who Use Drugs In Tanzania (2013).

[4] George Ayala et al., Social Discrimination Against Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM): Implications for HIV Policy and Programs (May 2010).

[5] Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Tanzania: Treatment of sexual minorities by society and government authorities; recourse and protection available to those who have been subject to ill treatment (2007-July 2014), 8 August 2014, TZA104923.E.

[6] Ross MW, Nyoni J, Ahaneku HO, et al., High HIV seroprevalence, rectal STIs and risky sexual behaviour in men who have sex with men in Dar es Salaam and Tanga, Tanzania, BMJ Open 2014;4:e006175.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006175.

[7] Tanzania Penal Code of 1945 (as amended by the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, 1998), Sections 138A, 154-155. The Sexual Offenses Special Provisions Act of 1998 updated certain sections of the penal code, but kept the prohibitions on homosexual conduct.

[8] Tanzania’s heavy reliance upon its British based penal code stands in stark contrast to its neighbors—most of which have penal codes that impose significantly lower penalties on homosexual conduct or no penalties at all. Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi each have penalties of up to 14 years in prison for homosexual conduct, and Uganda’s criminal code mandates life imprisonment. Though homosexual conduct is illegal in Burundi, penalties only range from 3 months to 2 years. Homosexual conduct is legal in Mozambique, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

[9] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Human Rights Law, HR/PUB/12/06 (2012).

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] United Republic of Tanzania, Prime Minister’s Office, Tanzania Third National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (2013/14-2017/18) (November 2013).

[13] Human Rights Watch has indicated that HIV prevalence among MSM in Dar es Salaam is as high as 40 percent. Human Rights Watch, “Treat Us Like Human Beings”: Discrimination against Sex Workers, Sexual and Gender Minorities, and People Who Use Drugs In Tanzania (2013). Tanzania’s NMSF III cites a study in which 41 percent of 271 Tanzanian MSM tested seropositive for HIV. United Republic of Tanzania, Prime Minister’s Office, Tanzania Third National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (2013/14-2017/18) (November 2013). Further, a 2014 study found that MSM in Dar es Salaam had an HIV rate 2.5 times that of the general population. Ross MW, Nyoni J, Ahaneku HO, et al. High HIV seroprevalence, rectal STIs and risky sexual behaviour in men who have sex with men in Dar es Salaam and Tanga, Tanzania. BMJ Open 2014;4:e006175.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006175.

[14] Human Rights Watch, “Treat Us Like Human Beings”: Discrimination against Sex Workers, Sexual and Gender Minorities, and People Who Use Drugs In Tanzania (2013).

[15] Itaborahy, LP & Zhu, J, State-Sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws: Criminalisation, protection and recognition of same-sex love (8th ed. 2013); see also UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Born Free and Equal: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in International Human Rights Law, HR/PUB/12/06 (2012).

[16] Human Rights Watch, “Treat Us Like Human Beings”: Discrimination against Sex Workers, Sexual and Gender Minorities, and People Who Use Drugs In Tanzania (2013).

[17] George Ayala et al., Social Discrimination Against Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM): Implications for HIV Policy and Programs (May 2010).

[18] Personal interview with LGBT advocacy organization. The victim’s identity is being withheld for security reasons.

[19] United Republic of Tanzania, Prime Minister’s Office, Tanzania Third National Multi-Sectoral Strategic Framework for HIV and AIDS (2013/14-2017/18) (November 2013).

[20] These recommendations are based on standards developed by the GLBT Health Access Project. More information on these standards are available at: http://www.glbthealth.org/CommunityStandardsofPractice.htm

[21] See, e.g., Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Education Sector Policy on HIV and AIDS (2d ed. 2013), https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1860/Final%20policy%20HIV%20and%20AIDS%202013.pdf

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Pamela Wandzel: “Right here at home”

Pamela J. Wandzel
Pamela J. Wandzel

People outside of my job often ask me what exactly it is I do for a living. When I respond with “I manage and develop pro bono opportunities for lawyers,” it often draws a blank stare. However, when I add “I herd cats and connect dots,” many people get this and start asking relevant questions.

Basically, I work with extremely busy lawyers and help them find ways to give free legal services to people and organizations that would not otherwise be able to afford their services. Some of my colleagues at the firm wonder at my ability to keep my sanity and humor when there are times I feel I’m the lone member of a team pushing a boulder up a hill.

The answer is easy: After many years, I still love my job. I love helping lawyers find projects they care about and can fit into the demands of a big law practice. It doesn’t matter if they are in their first year or fortieth year of practice. My goal is simple: Help them discover their passion. And when I can match a lawyer with a project for an organization I respect as much as I do The Advocates for Human Rights, life is good.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places,
close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any
maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory,
farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man,
woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity
without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there,
they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action
to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in
the larger world.”

Lawyers who want to work on human rights issues need look no further than The Advocates for Human Rights to satisfy their desire to impact lives here and abroad, and to help drive positive changes throughout a troubled world.

For me, and for my job, The Advocates offers something for just about everyone who takes Ms. Roosevelt’s quote to heart. From small, discrete research projects summarizing laws or reports to full-representation of asylum seekers, to drafting shadow reports to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, our lawyers have the interest and make the time to help. Their response and comments relating to the work continues to inspire me in my own job. I could not be more proud of the multiple responses I receive to meet requests for assistance for this outstanding organization and its clients.

I began writing this post before the attacks in Beirut, Paris, and Mali. But as I write today and think about what is going on in the world and within our own borders, I find Ms. Roosevelt’s words as relevant today as they were in 1958. The backlash we have seen toward Syrian refugees, and now Muslims in general, is more than disturbing. But it reminds me of the importance of tolerance and understanding, and the need to support organizations like The Advocates for Human Rights. Right here at home.

By: Pamela J. Wandzel, Director, Pro Bono & Community Service, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.

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Slamming the door on refugees won’t make us more secure

Syrian Refugees Enes Reyhan via Flickr

The following opinion editorial written by The Advocates for Human Rights’ executive director Robin Phillips was published in the November 20 Star Tribune. Ms. Phillips’s o-ed responded to the Star Tribune’s editorial, “Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” November 18.

While the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s recent support for a pause in U.S. refugee processing may appear to be reasonable (“Carefully extend help for Syrian refugees,” Nov. 18) — especially when compared to the hateful rhetoric permeating the current political conversation — the position is based on faulty assumptions. The U.S. refugee system is well-equipped to ensure our safety without compromising our most deeply held American values.

First, the Editorial Board’s position assumes that the European citizens who masterminded recent acts of terror were somehow connected to the flow of refugees. In the search for a promise of security following this tragedy, some have made the leap that the threat lies in the refugees who are trying to escape the same violence that unfolded on the streets of Paris and Beirut. More than 50 percent of Syria’s entire population has been displaced from their homes by bombardment and civil war. Seventy-six percent of these refugees are women and children. Imagine 2 million children who have lost everything.

Second, the board’s position assumes that Europe’s abject failure to process refugees and its reliance on Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon to indefinitely house millions of people with dwindling international support can in any way be equated to the U.S. refugee processing system. Syrian refugees numbering more than 5 million have crowded into countries neighboring their homeland. Faced with a desperate future in limbo, thousands of refugees risk their lives in a perilous journey by boat in search of a stable future in Europe. Already this year, more than 2,500 refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean.

By contrast, the U.S. handpicks those allowed to resettle through the refugee resettlement system. Less than one half of one percent of the global refugee population — no more than 85,000 people out of nearly 20 million refugees — was allowed to resettle in fiscal year 2016.

Third, the board’s view rests on an unsupported notion that the current refugee system somehow is inadequate. Refugees entering the U.S. undergo the most rigorous security screening process of anyone who comes to the this country. They go through multiple layers of security checks involving the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense, intelligence agencies and individual interviews. Refugees cannot enter the U.S. until they are cleared through this daunting process, which typically takes two years.

We understand the fear in the U.S. and in other countries. It is a harrowing time. But our impulse to slam the door in response to this violence will do nothing to make us more secure. Our only hope is in focused actions that address the reasons millions have fled their homelands.

The security of our country and its residents is paramount. Indeed, the U.S. has a duty to ensure the safety and security of those within its borders. But a knee-jerk abandonment of our commitment to refugee protection is not in line with our country’s history and values. No one should exploit horrific events that cause pain and fear to advance political agendas.

We do not want to close our nation off from the very groups of people who are best positioned to help identify those who mean to do us harm. Programs that profile based on ethnicity represent false solutions to real problems.

The U.S. has built a strong, multilayered process to ensure the security of its citizens and we should continue to invest in it, while acting on our responsibility to help address the refugee crisis. Accepting Syrian refugees is not an either/or situation. In the U.S., we can continue to welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. We must do both. Standing with the victims of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, and standing with the refugees, means standing for fundamental human rights.

By: Robin Phillips, Executive Director, The Advocates for Human Rights
(
Credit for Syrian refugee photo: Enes Reyhan via Flickr)

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Minneapolis Must Do Better

black hands holding US flag RGB

The United States committed itself – and all of us – to the elimination of racial discrimination and to taking effective measures to review national and local policies and amend, rescind or nullify any laws which have the effect of creating or perpetuating racial discrimination. We made this commitment not simply to end discrimination but to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices.

The United States ratified the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1994. Since then, the need to end discrimination and to combat racism wherever it exists and however violently or passively it manifests has continued.

Minneapolis now has the chance to live up to this commitment. It has the opportunity to make good on the promise we made more than 20 years ago to end all forms of racial discrimination with its response to the racist attacks against Black Lives Matter demonstrators outside the Minneapolis Police 4th Precinct late Monday night and to the police shooting of Jamar Clark which led to the demonstration.

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Here’s what to understand about refugee law & policy

Syrian Refugees Enes Reyhan via Flickr.jpg

I’ve been working as an attorney, primarily in immigration for 12 years. The overwhelming majority of the cases I handled have been asylum cases. I’ve taught a law school clinical practicum for eight years. I’ve spoken and trained attorneys and non-attorneys about asylum law and immigration, nationally and locally. I know the law and I know the process well.

Asylum, for those who aren’t familiar, is based on the same legal definition as “refugee.” The difference is just in where someone is located when they apply for protection from harm.

Here’s what you should understand about refugee law and policy. It will help you better evaluate the statements being made by many others, and it will hopefully help you form a more informed opinion.

First, what does it even mean to be a refugee? Under U.S. law (8 USC 1101(a)(42)), we use this definition (I’m going to paraphrase a little for ease of reading): Someone who is outside of their country of nationality, and who is unable or unwilling to return or get protection from their own government because of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

A refugee must be outside his or her country of origin and outside the United States to seek “refugee” status. They go through an application process, which involves in-person interviews and extensive background checks. This includes full fingerprints, INTERPOL checks, name checks, and cross-referencing a lot of government databases. The United States must approve them before they can set foot in this country. The approval process, before someone can be admitted to the United States, routinely takes between 12-24 months, and sometimes longer.

There is no “right” to refugee status. Individuals can be denied for any reason. Common reasons for denial are not meeting the legal definition of refugee or having inconsistencies in the person’s story.

Refugees must meet eligibility guidelines to enter the United States. These include not being “inadmissible.” There are a lot of reasons you can be deemed inadmissible. For a little “light” reading, check out 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3). It explains all of the “Security and Related Grounds” of inadmissibility. Having spent years appearing in Immigration Court and working with and against the good people at Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – trust me, they are not erring on the side of admitting people who might be a danger.

The “material support” provision excludes not just people who’ve associated with “known” terrorist groups. It excludes anyone who we have “reasonable ground to believe” is likely to engage in terrorism or terrorist-type activities. This section of law is incredibly broad and permissive in favor of the government to exclude potential refugees and immigrants. Terrorist groups can include any group of “two or more individuals.” The list of activities that can get you barred is long. Really, just go read the statute if you aren’t sure.

The number of refugee admissions statutorily allowed by congress is pretty small – for FY 2015 that number was capped at 70,000 as it has been for years. It’s only recently that we’ve even come close to filling that capacity. Often we’re below it.

We cannot predict the future. Someone may, after being admitted as a refugee, do something terrible. So might someone who is a U.S. citizen, as we have witnessed many times. Emily Good

By: Emily Good, an attorney  working as the Legal Projects Manager for Minnesota Legal Services State Support. She was formerly a staff attorney and director for The Advocates for Human Rights Refugee & Immigrant Program.

Credit for Syrian refugees’ photo:
Enes Reyhan via Flickr

——-

If you have questions about how the legal immigration system works, post them below. We’ll do our best to answer or ask someone who might know.

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Scott Pelley: “Life is asking, ‘What’s the meaning of you?'”

France
Scott-Pelley-2013
Scott Pelley, anchoring the CBS Evening News for a third-straight night in Paris following Friday’s deadly Islamic terror attacks, concluded Wednesday’s broadcast with an emotional commentary. We share it here with you:
“This week, parents looked at the questions on the faces of their children and did their best to make sense of the senseless. How to explain? What is the meaning of life if life is lost so easily to those who hate? In Paris, we recognized each and every face. We know them. We met in Oklahoma City, in New York and Washington after 9/11, and after the last mass shooting. Familiar in every time and every place, children serene because they don’t understand, parents in anguish because they can’t understand. Today a Parisian, Antoine Leiris, found his answer. His wife, who he called the love of his life, was killed Friday, leaving him to write a letter to the terrorists for himself and his 17-month-old son. “You will not have my hatred,” he told the killers. “This little boy will insult you by being happy and free.” The letter reminded us of Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who endured Auschwitz-Birkenau. The love of his life was lost in the death camps. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote, “the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude,” or, as Antoine Leiris put it today, “we are two, my son and I, but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.” The search for an explanation leaves us with silence until we search inside. In these times, don’t ask the meaning of life. Life is asking, what’s the meaning of you?”
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Supporting the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program

JORDAN-AMMAN-SYRIAN REFUGEES

 

November 17, 2015

Dear Senator/Representative:

As refugee and immigration law experts, humanitarian aid organizations, faith, labor and civil and human rights groups, we write to express our support for the U.S. refugee resettlement program. The world is witnessing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. More than 4 million Syrians have fled from their home country fleeing conflict and violence, and 6.5 million are displaced internally.

At a time when the world needs humanitarian leadership, some are now calling for the suspension of the U.S. refugee resettlement program or the imposition of restrictions on funding for Syrians and other groups of refugees. We oppose these proposals and believe they would jeopardize the United States’ moral leadership in the world.

Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris. They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. Most have lost loved ones to persecution and violence, in addition to having had their country, their community, and everything they own brutally taken from them.

Refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. Department of Homeland Security officials interview each refugee to determine whether they meet the refugee definition and whether they are admissible to the United States. Refugees undergo a series of biometric and investigatory background checks, including collection and analysis of personal data, fingerprints, photographs, and other background information, all of which is checked against government databases. The entire process typically takes more than two years and often much more before the refugee would arrive in the U.S. In addition the Administration is already taking steps, with its existing authority, to increase the capacity of its security and screening procedures for refugees. There is no need for Congress to impose additional restrictions or security measures.

The United States decides which refugees to resettle. Because so few refugees in the world are resettled, the U.S. often chooses the most vulnerable, including refugees who cannot remain safely where they are and families with children who cannot receive the medical care they need to survive.

To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation’s core values. It would send a demoralizing and dangerous message to the world that the United States makes judgments about people based on the country they come from and their religion. This feeds into extremist propaganda and makes us all less safe. We call upon Congress to demonstrate leadership by speaking out against the scapegoating of any group during this time of crisis and to ensure that our nation’s humanitarian efforts are robust.

The United States is a welcoming country with a diverse society and our resettlement program must continue to reflect this.

We can welcome refugees while ensuring our own security. Refugees have enriched communities across our country and have been part of the American fabric for generations. Historically our nation has responded to every major war or conflict and has resettled refugees from Africa, South East Asia, Eastern Europe as well as the Middle-East. Closing the door to refugees would be disastrous for not only the refugees themselves, but their family members in the United States who are waiting for them to arrive, and our reputation in the world.

Sincerely,
The Advocates for Human Rights
Alliance for Citizenship
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Lawyers Association
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
American Refugee Committee
America’s Voice Education Fund
Anti-Defamation League
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence.
Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies
CARE USA
Center for Applied Linguistics
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Center for New Community
Center for Victims of Torture
Centro de los Derechos de Inmigrante, Inc.
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Refugee & Immigration Ministries
Church World Service
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Concern Worldwide (US) Inc.
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Council on American-Islamic Relations
The Episcopal Church
Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Farmworker Justice
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Habonim Dror North America
HIAS
Human Rights First
InterAction
International Catholic Migration Commission
International Refugee Assistance Project
International Rescue Committee
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, National Advocacy Office
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mercy-USA for Aid and Development
Mi Familia Vota
Muslim Public Affairs Council
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates
OneAmerica
ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration
Oxfam America
Peace Action West
Presbyterian Church USA
Refugees International
Save the Children
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
SustainUS: U.S. Youth for Justice
Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)
Syria Relief Development
Tahirih Justice Center
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association
United to End Genocide
United Farm Workers
United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
UURISE – Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, Inc.
Win Without War
Women’s Refugee Commission
Workmen’s Circle
World Relief

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Overworked and underfunded immigration court system can’t do the job

Gavel - Law concept

Almost half a million immigration cases wait to be heard in immigration courts. The number of pending cases has doubled in six years and keeps growing. Overburdened judges handle about 1,400 cases each year, far more than any other administrative judges. In each case a person, a family, a mother or father or sister or brother, waits for a day in court. 

A report from Syracuse University describes the length of the wait for a hearing.

“[T]he average wait time for an individual in the Immigration Court’s pending cases list has also reached an all-time high of 635 calendar days. But this average wait time only measures how long these individuals have already been waiting, not how much longer they will have to wait before their cases are resolved.

“The severity of the rapidly growing crisis was revealed last January, when the court issued thousands of letters notifying individuals that their cases would be delayed for nearly five years more — until November 29, 2019.”

In Minnesota, the report said, the average wait time was 638 days, with 1,092 more days until the probable hearing date.

A Los Angeles Times op/ed identified the problem: too few judges. Everybody who knows anything about the system knows more judges are needed. But Congress refuses to budget for them.

“There is a solution: Money. Estimates range from needing 100 to 225 additional judges to clear the current cases and keep up with the anticipated future caseload. So how does that happen? Congress budgets for it. Except it refuses to.

“This is where Congress’ cynical approach to immigration enters the spotlight. The Republicans in Congress bray about Obama’s immigration policies and decry the high numbers of folks here in the country without permission. But they refuse to look at the solution that they control: properly budgeting the court system that determines who has a legally recognized right to stay, and who is eligible for deportation.”

Judges are not the only people needed to make the immigration courts work. More than 85 percent of immigration cases need interpreters, but the Department of Justice is trying to slash the pay for interpreters, and that will mean more trouble for the already over-burdened courts.

Tony Rosado is a professional interpreter. He says he does not work in immigration courts because even the old rates were unconscionably low. But now, Rosado reports in his blog:

“For several weeks I have been contacted by many of our interpreter friends and colleagues. They have talked to me in person, over the phone, by text, by email, and through social media. The message was the same: interpreting services at the immigration courts of the United States are under siege.  They explained how the contractor who will provide interpreting services at all U.S. immigration courthouses had contacted them to offer unprecedented low fees and horrifying working conditions to those who wanted to continue to interpret in these settings.”

BuzzFeed sums up the problem: without enough interpreters, immigration courts can’t function and immigrants can’t get a fair hearing. The extensive BuzzFeed article offers an example of the crucial role played by interpreters:

“Lichter recalled a time when a woman was testifying about the six men who gang raped her. The woman recounted how one of the men standing behind her said, ‘Vamos a hacerla picadillo,’ which translates roughly to ‘Let’s beat her to a pulp.’ The interpreter got it wrong, Lichter said, by rendering a literal translation of the Spanish word picadillo as ‘ground beef.’

“The difference may seem subtle, Lichter said, but it can be crucial in determining whether, from the judge’s perspective, an asylum seeker’s story appears to come truly from the heart or falls flat because it doesn’t make sense.”

Lawyers also play an essential role, representing people in hugely complex immigration proceedings. Every day, immigration judges decide cases that are literally a matter of life and death. Many of the cases now pending in immigration courts involve children who have fled violence in Honduras and El Salvador over the past several years.

According to PBS NewsHour, 19,000 immigrants under 21 have filed requests to stay in the United States this year, and 62 percent are not represented by lawyers. Immigration cases, especially refugee cases, are incredibly complex. The ACLU has filed a class action lawsuit saying that these children need to be represented by lawyers as they seek asylum here. PBS reports:

“Seventy-three percent of immigrants under 21 with lawyers are allowed to stay in the U.S. That’s five times higher than the 15 percent of children without lawyers who are allowed to stay.”

When someone is represented by a lawyer, their case gets more careful consideration. That takes longer, increasing the average length of immigration court cases from 16 months for people who are not represented by lawyers to 30 months for those who are.

Judges, lawyers, interpreters — they are all essential to immigration courts. Without adequate funding, the entire system fails.

Read more:

By: Guest blogger Mary Turck from her blog, “News Day.”

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First person executed this year in the U.S.: a Vietnam Veteran

Vietnam Vet RGBAn op-ed published in USA Today written by three retired generals calls attention to the plight of veterans on death row. The generals call for systemic review of the status of these veterans and urge decision-makers in capital cases to seriously consider the mental health effects of service-related PTSD in determining whether to pursue or to impose the death penalty against military veterans.

Brigadiers General (Ret.) James P. Cullen, David R. Irvine, and Stephen N. Xenakis write that “[c]ountless veterans have endured violence and trauma that few others can fully imagine” but defense attorneys in capital cases “are often not adequately prepared to investigate and present” this evidence and prosecutors and judges often treat it dismissively. They say that, “at a minimum, when a judge or jury is weighing a person’s life or death, they should have full knowledge and understanding of that person’s life history. Veterans with PTSD — and, in fact, all those with serious mental illness at the time of their crime — deserve a complete investigation and presentation of their mental state by the best experts in the field.”

“Vets suffering from PTSD need our help

“The first person executed in the United States this year, Andrew Brannan, was a Vietnam veteran who had been granted 100% disability because of his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other problems stemming from his military service. Approximately 300 other veterans remain on death row and face execution. As retired Army general officers, lawyers and a psychiatrist, these facts concern us greatly, and they should disturb many other Americans, as well.

“On Veterans Day, we honor those who bravely served their country and offer our helping hand to assist those who have returned from war with wounds and physical disabilities. Countless veterans have endured violence and trauma that few others can fully imagine. They deserve our thanks. But some are left behind.

“Our hospitals and therapists have performed wonders in assisting wounded veterans who lost limbs. A prosthetic is not the same as the original, but with the courage of service-members, combined with an understanding and supportive community, we are making progress. We wish the same could be said for our veterans who come back with deep brain and mental wounds. Their requests for understanding and compassion are too often dismissed.

“A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center is a wake-up call for an issue that few have focused on. Even as the use of capital punishment is declining, veterans suffering with PTSD and other service-related problems languish on death rows across the country.

“Brannan was executed in Georgia this year for one irrational act of violence that occurred 17 years ago. He killed a police officer who had stopped him for speeding. That is a terrible crime, but as the Veterans Administration had determined, Brannan was mentally disabled with deep scars from his combat in Vietnam.

“James Davis is also a Vietnam veteran with PTSD. He belatedly received his Purple Heart medal on death row in North Carolina, thanks to the work of a fellow veteran and therapist and a pastor, Jim Johnson, who visited Davis. When Johnson pinned the medal on him, Davis saluted proudly, before retreating back into the darkness of his mental problems. He could still be executed today for the murders he committed in 1995, and he has all but given up his appeals.

“John Thuesen is on death row in Texas — a veteran of the Iraq conflict. His PTSD was not properly diagnosed or treated, and his lawyers did not do enough to explain his condition to the jury that convicted him of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Texas executes far more people than any other state in the country, so there is a real concern that his current appeal could be denied.

“PTSD is not as obvious as a missing limb, but it can be deeply debilitating. The trauma from combat can simmer under the surface for years, then erupt in violence, often against family members. It can be triggered by anything that jars a memory of a time when a person was under violent attack, demanding immediate and forceful reaction. Years later, the previous danger is no longer present, but the memory may set off a similar reaction, with deadly consequences. PTSD can be treated, but in one study only about half of the veterans who needed treatment received it.

“In a criminal sentencing hearing, PTSD should be a strong mitigating factor. It’s not an excuse or a demand for acquittal. However, the very symptoms that define PTSD can be frightening to a jury if not carefully explained by a mental health expert familiar with the illness. Defense attorneys are often not adequately prepared to investigate and present this kind of evidence; prosecutors or judges might dismiss it because others with similar combat experiences did not murder anyone. Perhaps some of the blame should be more broadly shared because we sometimes choose to look away when a veteran’s scars are not the kind that we know how to cope with.

“We are not arguing here about the morality or the utility of the death penalty. But at a minimum, when a judge or jury is weighing a person’s life or death, they should have full knowledge and understanding of that person’s life history. Veterans with PTSD — and, in fact, all those with serious mental illness at the time of their crime — deserve a complete investigation and presentation of their mental state by the best experts in the field.

“Decision-makers — jurors, judges and governors — should be informed that such information is a valid reason to spare a defendant from capital punishment. There are alternatives, such as life in prison without parole.

“We should begin by determining the exact scope of this problem: Who are the veterans on death row? How could their military experience have affected their commission of a crime? How well were their disabilities investigated and presented in court? And what should be done when the system fails them?

“Veterans facing the death penalty deserve this assistance.”

This op-ed published today, November 11, 2015, in USA Today was written by Brig. Gen. (Ret.) James P. Cullen, USA, is a former judge for the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) David R. Irvine, USA, is a former Deputy Commander of the 96th U.S. Army Reserve Command. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Stephen N. Xenakis, USA, M.D. is an adjunct clinical professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

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Trick or Treat? The True Cost of Chocolate

child labor

Daniel Rosenthal/laif/Redux Image source

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While my son is getting ready to head out tonight to harvest Halloween candy, excited by the chance to lug a pillowcase full of chocolate bars around the neighborhood,I’ve been thinking about the children who harvest the cocoa that goes into the chocolate in his bag.

Because while he finds an evening of hauling candy a treat, I know that for the millions of kids his age working in the cocoa industry it’s anything but fun.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 2 million children are performing hazardous work in the cocoa industry in the West African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, which account for about 58% of the world’s cocoa production.

The cocoa industry in these countries relies heavily on work performed by children, some as young as 5 years old, including WFCL (shorthand for the “worst forms of child labor” as defined by international law).

The work is dangerous, and it’s especially hard on children’s bodies.

“Working on cocoa farms can be hazardous, particularly for children, whose physical, mental, and psychological capacities are still developing. Children working in cocoa may work long hours, carry heavy loads, and use dangerous tools. Children may also be involved in spraying cocoa trees with pesticides or burning fields to clear them.”

A Tulane University report, commissioned as part of the accountability framework for the 2001 Harkin-Engel Protocol that was meant to end abuses in the industry, lays out the issue:

“Fifteen years ago, the West African cocoa sector came under increased scrutiny after media reports revealed incidences of child trafficking and other labor abuses in cocoa farming. On September 19, 2001, representatives of the international cocoa/chocolate industry signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol. Signing this agreement as witnesses were U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, the ILO, and representatives of civil society. Based on ILO Convention 182, the Protocol’s principal goal was “to eliminate the worst forms of child labor (WCFL) in the cocoa sectors of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.”

Remarkably, child labor in the cocoa industry has continued to proliferate despite the signing of the Harkin-Engel Protocol in 2001. In 2008, DOL estimated that 1.75 million children were working in West African cocoa production. By 2013-14, that number had risen to 2.26 million children, including 2.03 million children found to be performing hazardous work in cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

The Tulane University study of the sector released in July 2015 found the following:

  • Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, experienced large growth in cocoa production from 2008-09 to 2013-14.
  • Total output rose by over half a million tons, or over 40%.
  • The population of children 5-17 years living in agricultural households in Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa-growing regions grew by about 180,000, or 5%.
  • The numbers of children working in cocoa production, doing child labor in cocoa production, and doing hazardous work in cocoa production grew by 59%, 48%, and 46% respectively.

What’s driving the growth?

In short, it’s us and our demand for cheap chocolate. The problem, of course, is that it’s not easy to harvest cocoa. It’s heavy, dangerous, delicate work. Fields must be cleared, planted, and tended. When the cocoa pods are ready, they must be harvested by hand, split open, and the seeds removed for drying. It’s time-consuming, labor-intensive work.

That kind of labor should come at a significant cost. But as with so many commodities, the prices are kept low by squeezing labor out of workers who are largely invisible to consumers through a complicated supply chain structure. Consumer-facing companies are driven by the competing demands of delivering rock bottom prices and sky-high profits. Those with massive buying power – like Mars, Hershey’s, and Nestlė – are able to bid down the prices of commodities like cocoa with their suppliers, who make up for low prices by paying less – or sometimes nothing at all – for the work.

Supply chain dynamics are of growing concern in the anti-trafficking movement. The seriousness of the global supply chain’s impact on workers was highlighted in the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, and 2010 legislation in California, the Transparency in Supply Chains Act, now requires certain companies to report their specific actions to eradicate slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains.

We see the effect of this kind of price pressure on wages here in the United States. Retail cleaners in Minnesota, for example, have been squeezed by the low contracts bid by stores which result in wages as low as $4 per hour. Workers organized by CTUL have set a November 10 strike deadline for contracted cleaners. Farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields, facing the same structural barrier to fair earnings, used pressure on major retailers to increase the per/pound rate for tomatoes by $.01, resulting in a substantial step toward a fair wage.

But the kids harvesting cocoa don’t have that option. Sometimes sold for the equivalent of $30, sometimes kidnapped, they don’t have the power to stage a boycott.

That’s why earlier this fall a lawsuit alleging the use of the worst forms of child labor in the production of Nestlé, Hershey’s, and Mars chocolate products was filed by consumers in California. It’s not the first time that the companies have faced litigation over their labor practices, but this class action is the latest effort to pressure the chocolate industry to fix a problem it has known about for more than a decade.

Forced labor yields approximately $50 billion in profits annually according to estimates by the International Labour Organization. Included are profits derived from what are considered the worst forms of child labor, or WFCL, such as that used in the cocoa industry.

There are bright spots: While the number of children in West Africa’s cocoa production increased in the past five years, Ghana actually managed to reduce, albeit slightly, its numbers during that period.

So what will I do this Halloween? I’m not entirely sure. But I know I’ll start with a conversation.  To end this problem of child labor in the cocoa industry, more consumers need to know about the true cost of the chocolate they are buying.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy

More Resources to Learn about Child Labor in the Cocoa Industry:

The Dark Side of Chocolate – 2010 documentary by Miki Mistrati & U. Roberto Romano. In 2012, they produced a follow-up film called Shady Chocolate. The Shady Chocolate website includes an interactive cacao map and information how to write letters to the industry via the International Cacao Initiative.

Slave Free Chocolate has a list of ethical chocolate companiesFood Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List is also available as a free smartphone app.

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October Raised this Teen’s Awareness of Domestic Violence

DV photo

I have to admit it — until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I also have to admit that until a few years ago, I didn’t understand much about the issue of domestic violence.  Then my mother went with volunteer and staff attorneys from The Advocates for Human Rights on a fact-finding mission to Mongolia to assess whether Mongolia was implementing its domestic violence laws.

When my mother got back from her trip, she told me it was estimated that one in three Mongolian women are victims of domestic violence. She also told me that while there were some laws to protect women and to give them access and protection in the courts, women weren’t often aware of the laws. Even when women did know, the laws weren’t often enforced.

Since my mother’s trip, I’ve learned more about domestic violence. I learned that what has been happening in Mongolia is not unique, and according to statistics cited by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes.

Domestic violence isn’t just an issue that impacts adults. It has a large effect on children and teenagers, too. Every year, millions of children witness domestic violence in their homes, making them victims, too. I can only imagine how afraid and helpless I might feel if I lived in a home where there was domestic violence.

Sometimes, teenagers are direct victims of domestic violence, such as in cases of teen dating violence. As the Center for Disease Control noted, “Unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime.” I imagine that many teens who are in these types of relationships are afraid or embarrassed to report the violence, or think that type of behavior is actually acceptable.

It’s often said that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. I disagree. Domestic Violence Awareness Month has made me think about all the kids my age who are negatively affected by domestic violence. I now realize that young people need to help raise awareness that there must be zero tolerance of domestic violence. I know that we can’t end domestic violence tomorrow. But we can make a start by helping victims talk about the abuse they suffer and empowering them to seek help.

By youth blogger Jenna Schulman, a ninth grade student in Washington, D.C. 

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Serious Concerns About Lack of Access to Counsel for Asylum Seekers

Child from HondurasU.S. Senator Al Franken has called on Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to ensure access to counsel for asylum seekers held in family detention centers. Joined by 18 Senate colleagues, Sen. Franken raises serious concerns regarding reports that U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is interfering with the ability of asylum-seeking mothers and children to access legal representation. Recently, individual volunteer attorneys, who had travelled to the privately-owned prison in Dilley, Texas where approximately 2000 Central American refugee women and children are detained,were barred from entering to provide  pro bono representation.

Access to counsel can be the difference between life and death for asylum seekers in the United States. Asylum seekers who have lawyers are more than three times as likely to be granted asylum as those who do not.  Having an attorney is “the single most important factor” affecting the outcome of the case. Yet individuals in immigration detention face the biggest challenge in obtaining legal representation.  The American Bar Association estimates that a whopping 84% of immigration detainees nationwide were unrepresented in their removal proceedings.

At the international level, The Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the appalling lack of access to counsel for asylum seekers during the UN reviews for U.S. compliance with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, and the Convention Against Torture.  Most recently, The Advocates raised the continuing failure of the U.S. to recognize asylum seekers from Central America’s northern triangle in its statement to the UN Human Rights Council during a September 28 interactive dialogue on the impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of human rights:

As an NGO that provides free legal services to asylum seekers in the United States, we would particularly like to draw attention to an issue that we see on a daily basis: the impact that violent transnational criminal gangs in Central America, fueled by profits from the trade in illegal drugs, have on the lives Central Americans, forcing thousands of women and children to flee and seek safety in the U.S.

Transnational gangs extort, threaten, and forcibly recruit people living in strategic drug trafficking corridors. States in the region are ill-equipped to deal with crimes by these gangs, leaving victims unprotected from serious harm, including torture, disappearance, sexual violence, and murder. And the violence continues to grow, as gangs seek to solidify their control over valuable drug trafficking routes.

For example, gang members threatened to kill one of our clients, who I’ll call “Teresa”, after her family could no longer afford to pay protection money for the family business. Armed gang members abducted her, threw her into a truck, and took her to the leader’s house, where he beat and raped her. Left with no choice but to flee, she sought asylum in the U.S.

Yet the U.S. violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers like Teresa by failing to recognize victims of transnational criminal gangs as refugees, even when such gangs operate as quasi-state actors that routinely torture, rape, and kill those who resist support or recruitment.

Asylum seekers face other violations, including arbitrary detention and prosecution for illegal entry. Mothers and their children are detained in difficult conditions pending preliminary credible fear determinations in two privately-owned prisons where attorneys have been denied access to clients and even summarily barred from the facilities.

The Advocates for Human Rights calls upon:

  • the Human Rights Council to include this issue in the discussion about the impact of the world drug problem on human rights;

  • the United Nations member States to ensure that their national drug policies consider the impact on the human rights of affected individuals and their countries; and

  • the U.S. to end family immigration detention and expedited removal procedures and to treat all asylum seekers in accordance with international standards.

See The Advocates’ volunteer Dr. Bill Lohman deliver the oral statement to the Human Rights Council:

In July, The Advocates launched a bilingual National Asylum Help Line to connect families released from U.S. immigration detention centers like the one in Dilley with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Help Line at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.

By Michele Garnett MacKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ Director of Advocacy, and Deputy Director Jennifer Prestholdt

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End the inhumane detention of refugee women and children

Child from HondurasDuring National Week of Action, open your eyes to U.S. horrors

As families across Minnesota prepare for the delights and frights of Halloween, a separate, hidden, and chilling reality exists in Texas, where more than 2,000 immigrant mothers and children are in for-profit detention facilities because they dared to flee to America to escape the horrific gang and domestic violence plaguing Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

The children in these facilities aren’t deciding whether they want to be Sofia the First or Captain America for Halloween. They are wondering whether they will be in jail for another week or forever.

This does not need to be their reality for much longer. In a class action lawsuit filed earlier this year, California Federal Court Judge Dolly Gee ordered family detention to end. This lawsuit was filed and succeeded because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had failed to provide basic human necessities, such as adequate food, drinking water, medical care, and appropriate facilities to immigrant children in detention.

Judge Gee’s order states that: 1) children can no longer be held in unlicensed facilities and must be given access to adequate food, drinking water, and proper medical care, and importantly, 2) since ICE has been holding immigrant children in sub-standard conditions since June 2014, all immigrant children―with their mothers―must be released from detention and the lock-up facilities must be shut down by October 23, 2015.

It is shocking that the simple proposition that innocent children do not belong in jail has resulted in such a pitched battle in federal court, but it has. Furthermore, there are signs that the government has the appetite for further litigation, as the Department of Homeland Security has stated that it intends to appeal Judge Gee’s decision.

This week is National Week of Action to #EndFamilyDetention, designed to call attention to the human rights abuses the U.S. government is inflicting upon children and their mothers. Events like the one held yesterday at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis—grown from grass roots efforts of local attorneys and advocates―are being held in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, San Antonio, and throughout the country.

Local immigration attorneys have visited these family detention facilities to provide desperately needed legal representation to mothers and their children who are young and scared. Most of the mothers have experienced sexual violence, extortion, and death threats. They have seen their family members murdered before their eyes. A significant number of the children have the same sad history. About 90 percent of the families have been found to have a credible fear of returning to their country, the first step in qualifying for asylum in the United States.

The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis, has launched the National Asylum Help Line to connect Central American families released from detention and seeking asylum with free immigration legal services near them so they can have a fair day in court and a chance to live in safety.

Asylum seekers should be treated like human beings when they come to our country, and until recently, they often were. Before June 2014, these mothers and children most likely would have been identified and then immediately released to family in the United States. They would have received a court date to appear in immigration court to present their case for asylum. Many would have hired an immigration attorney or found a nonprofit organization to represent them in their cases. Orderly, painless, inexpensive.

By contrast, we now have a system that increases the pain all around. Mothers and children are detained indefinitely in a remote location where legal access is barely available and family visitation virtually impossible. Families are jailed in for-profit detention facilities that value profits over providing a basic level of care to children. And all of this costs taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars.

It is beyond inhumane, beyond ridiculous. It is an outrage.

As immigration attorneys, we believe and know that refugees, including the youngest and most vulnerable, have the right to seek asylum, a right that is protected under international law as well as United States laws. But how do we treat these refugees in America, the land of the free? We jail them.

To those who would argue that these women and children are breaking the law by “entering illegally,” it is important to understand that these individuals are presenting themselves to border patrol and claiming a fear of return—as they have the legal right to do―because they are afraid they will be killed if they go home. This most basic of human rights ensures that those who flee persecution have a chance to be heard before being deported to torture or death. By violating our internal and international obligations to process the cases of these asylum seekers in a humane and orderly fashion, we are the ones who are the true lawbreakers.

We hope that as more Americans understand the horrors these refugee mothers and children escaped, as more Americans learn that these vulnerable families are being held in deplorable conditions in for-profit jails run by the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, as more Americans find out how expensive it is to perpetuate this ill-conceived system of misery, they will agree with Judge Gee, and hopefully, family immigration detention will end.

By: Twin Cities’ immigration attorneys Kara Lynum and Michelle Rivero, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Note: This blog post was published in the Star Tribune‘s editorial section on October 22, 2015.

Featured

We Cheered for the Women of Morocco

Moroccan Woman's Eyes

Article highlights

  • The Advocates for Human Rights and its Moroccan partner, Mobilizing for Rights Associates, attended the review of Morocco in Geneva by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • MRA, other Moroccan NGOs, and The Advocates partnered on a report  submitted to the Committee on the treatment of women in Morocco.
  • The submission shined light on the widespread violence against women, need for domestic violence legislation, lack of access to housing, healthcare and other support for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage of girls, and polygamy.
  • Particularly given what we’ve learned about biology since Henry VIII, it was astonishing to hear from Morocco’s representative examples justifying polygamy.
  • The Committee adopted many of the recommendations made by the Advocates’ and MRA’s joint report, including abolishing polygamy in Morocco.

“I have a question about polygamy. If a man may
have more than one wife, why doesn’t Morocco
allow women to have two husbands?”

Ms. Heisoon Shin, one of the three women who serve as independent experts on the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, asked the Moroccan delegation this question. Sitting in the audience, our group of staff and volunteers from The Advocates for Human Rights, as well as colleagues from our Moroccan partner organization Mobilizing for Rights Associates (“MRA”), could hardly keep from cheering out loud. Yet, the government’s response, articulated by Employment Minister Abdeslam Seddiki had us smacking our foreheads and sinking in our chairs.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the countries who are bound by the Covenant. By ratifying, those countries have agreed, among other things, to undertake to ensure that women have equal rights to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. They have also agreed to regularly report on how they are complying with the Covenant, including at an in-person review at the UN in Geneva.

Morocco was up for review during our recent advocacy trip to the UN in Geneva. In collaboration with MRA and an alliance of Moroccan NGOs, The Advocates prepared a report on issues relating to the economic, social, and cultural rights of women in Morocco that it submitted to the Committee. The submission discusses widespread violence against women, the need for domestic violence legislation, lack of access to housing, healthcare and other support for victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment, early marriage of girls, and polygamy.

During the last review of Morocco in 2006, the Committee stated that “certain traditions, customs and cultural practices in Morocco continue to prevent women from fully exercising their rights under the Covenant.” In particular, the Committee noted that polygamy, which violates women’s dignity and constitutes discrimination against women, continues to be practiced in Morocco.

Morocco allows a man to take an additional wife if he proves to a judge that he has  “exceptional and objective justification” and “sufficient resources.” According to the government of Morocco, polygamy “occurs only in exceptional cases” and it is declining. However, as The Advocates and MRA explained in their report to the Committee, the 2004 Family Code continues to allow polygamy when a husband’s petition to take another wife is approved by a judge. The approval rate of petitions for authorization to take another wife is high and increasing; 43.41% of petitions for polygamy authorizations were granted in 2010, up from 40.36% in 2009.[1] Additionally, marriage registration procedures originally designed to protect women in verbal marriages are being used to circumvent polygamy restrictions.

Minister Seddiki addressed Ms. Shin’s question. In a conciliatory tone, he explained his view that:

[I]t would be reasonable for a man to take an additional wife, if for example his current wife was unable to bear children. In the case of a farmer who needed sons to work with him but whose wife failed to give birth to boys, he said, taking an additional wife would be perfectly understandable.

Particularly given what we’ve learned about biology since Henry VIII, it was astonishing to hear these examples as justification for polygamy.

Stephanie Willman, a founding partner of MRA later told Morocco World News that she was “shocked” by the Minister’s statement that it is “normal for men to want to take another wife.”  She added, “It’s normal for people to want things, but one can’t always have everything he or she wants. That’s why there are laws – to make sure that one person’s wants don’t violate the human rights of others – in this case, of women’s human rights to be treated with dignity as equal human beings.”

Sometimes people say, “Well, it’s cultural” and suggest that it may be inappropriate to “impose our values” on others. Mr. Waleed Sadi, chairperson of the CESCR had the perfect answer to this. In closing the session on Morocco he said:

Many people from all over the world spent countless hours thinking, talking, debating and considering economic, social, cultural rights and human rights. They arrived at consensus and developed the standards set forth in the Covenant. Cultural norms must conform to those standards, not the other way around.

Once again, I for one felt like cheering.

Epilogue:

In its recent Concluding Observations, the Committee adopted many of the recommendations made by the Advocates’ and MRA’s joint report, including abolishing polygamy in Morocco. The Committee urged the government of Morocco to conduct awareness campaigns to eliminate gender stereotypes and promote women’s rights; to accelerate the adoption of the bill on sexual harassment, especially in the workplace but also on sexual harassment in all its forms and in all places, including instituting penalties consistent with the seriousness of the offense.

The Committee also recommended that Morocco take steps to ensure that victims can file complaints without fear of reprisals and have access to redress and adequate compensation; adopt a comprehensive law on violence against women in accordance with international standards; and ensure its application to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including marital rape.

The Committee further recommended that Morocco take steps to investigate and prosecute offenders and allow victims of domestic violence access to effective remedies and immediate protection measures, including by establishing a sufficient number of shelters.

Finally, the Committee recommended abolishing the criminalization of illicit sexual relations; amending the law to set the minimum age for marriage at 18 and repealing Article 20 of the Family Code, which allows judges to authorize underage marriage.

By Julie Shelton, attorney and Chicago-based volunteer who The Advocates for Human Rights honored with its Volunteer Award in 2014. Ms. Shelton traveled in September to the United Nations in Geneva with The Advocates and other volunteers.

[1] Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), Rapport des ONG de défense des droits des femmes au Maroc au titre du 2e Examen Périodique Universel (EPU) (November 2011).

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